A mosaic of education: Great Spirits Camp focuses on literacy, math skills and fun

By Laura Moore
Special to The Criterion

“GREAT!” shouts the camp director at 9 a.m.

“SPIRITS!” the students, teachers and counselors shout back.

The shouting continues until all attention is gathered and the opening ceremonies can proceed. Children wave their hands in anticipation.

Great Spirits Camp 2006 has begun.

“I like coming to camp each day because of the fun things we do. We have a mixture of fun and learning,” said eighth-grade camper Alan-Micah Kanibeh.

Nearly 300 students and 60 staff member participated in the third year of Great Spirits Camp at seven Catholic schools in Indinanapolis from June 26 through July 14. The camp is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant through the Indiana Department of Education.

Campers received personal attention in the areas of reading and math through games and creative activities. Registration is limited to students attending Central Catholic, Holy Angels, Holy Cross Central, St. Andrew and St. Rita Catholic Academy, St. Anthony, St. Joan of Arc and St. Philip Neri schools in Indianapolis.

“It is a good, safe place for children to use their summer time productively while having fun and learning new ways to have fun,” said Sarah Batt, program director.

First-grade teacher Melissa Hennessee’s classroom provided typical scholastic elements, including the daily schedule, a shape museum and folders sampling her students’ work. But also tucked throughout her room is evidence of summer camp, including a box of Math Pentathlon games, handmade clay marbles from Conner Prairie and water bottles labeled with each child’s name.

Students and teachers were provided a classroom size that offered a one-to-seven ratio in order to promote extended individual attention during Math Pentathlon games and Accelerated Reading time.

“It is necessary for the students to get the help they need while they are having fun,” said sixth-grade teacher Mary Ellen Morris.

“I liked learning about fractions because it wasn’t boring,” noted eighth-grade camper Kyle Guyton.

Throughout the three-week curriculum, teachers and counselors focused on increasing the level of literacy and improving math skills for children.

To provide development for students on a holistic level, instructional time was also set aside for the Fun and Fitness program.

At the St. Andrew and St. Rita location, students were welcomed to the gym with upbeat music by fun and fitness director Christopher Moore. Activities ranging from scooter soccer to “capture the flag” promoted good sportsmanship and learning about movement.

“Students need to have physical activity on a daily basis in order to lead healthy lives,” he said.

“I love playing games with my friends,” added seventh-grade camper D’Asia Carter.

Students also took a field trip to Connor Prairie in Fishers, Ind., to explore several areas of their own heritage through the living history exhibits.

“It gives our kids a different way to learn because it lets them walk through history and touch it, especially the kids who have had a difficult time learning the traditional way,” said Batt.

The final way that students learned about their heritage was through the Art with a Heart program. Campers learned about a variety of artists and artistic styles. This year’s project included silk screening T-shirts and designing a fashion company.

Janice Cummings brought three of her grandchildren to Great Spirits Camp.

“This camp keeps kids active and gives them positive role models. It keeps them off of the streets and shows them things they wouldn’t normally be exposed to,” said Cummings.

As the three weeks ended, students were given tests based on the standards targeted at camp.

“This camp makes a difference, and we should be able to see that difference this year with ISTEP scores and reading levels,” said Batt.

Teachers and students alike now pray for continued funding because the four-year, $2 million Indiana Department of Education grant expires before next summer.

New avenues for funding are being explored to allow Great Spirits Camp to continue providing urban children with a mosaic of education, exercise and entertainment.

(Laura Moore teaches journalism and English at New Palestine High School and is a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.) †

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