Summer camp keeps kids sharp

Sheila Golden gives high-fives to her group after they

In an age where video game and remote controls vie for
children’s attention, about 15 first graders were captivated by
games of a bygone era including jacks, pick-up sticks and
In an age where video game and remote controls vie for children’s attention, about 15 first graders were captivated by games of a bygone era including jacks, pick-up sticks and marbles.

With some Gilroy families struggling to make ends meet, sending their children to pricey summer camps isn’t exactly a top priority.

Second-year program Super Power Summer Camp is trying to buck that trend by offering more than 800 kindergarten through eighth grade students, mostly from low-income families, to attend a quality summer camp.

According to Mandy Reedy, the afterschool program administrator for the Gilroy Unified School District, children from low-income families fall behind dramatically during the summer months, only intensifying the academic achievement gap between the wealthy and low-income students during the school year.

“The summer achievement gap affects low-income children disproportionately,” said Roc Reyes, manager of prevention services with the Mexican American Community Service Agency, one of the partners behind the summer camp. “For many of the kids who attend our camp, summer school was their only opportunity for productive summer activities, but budget cuts have taken away many of those options.”

Largely fueled by a $100,000 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Super Power Summer Camp is a joint project of the Gilroy Unified School District, the district’s migrant education program, the Mexican American Community Service Agency and the YMCA of Silicon Valley. Another $80,000 in state and federal grants allows the camp to focus on boosting the quality of programs delivered to children over the seven-week camp at Eliot and Glen View elementary Schools and Brownell Middle School.

Of the students who attend Super Power Summer Camp, 70 percent are English learners and 77 percent qualify for free lunch through the school district.

Back in the classroom, camp counselors pulled out large trunks on loan from the Gilroy Museum. They contained colonial clothes, old workbooks, games and other antiques. This particular aspect of camp also included a walking field trip to the Gilroy Museum, a site many students had never visited.

Children who have lived less than 20 miles away from Henry Coe State Park their entire lives – but never stepped foot inside – also took their first trip to northern California’s largest state park this year. Ashley Peen, 8, giggled when she remembered how her class tracked a bobcat.

“It was cool that we got to look for a bobcat,” she said. “We saw the (animal droppings), but we never saw the bobcat. My favorite part was catching the frogs. They weren’t as slimy as they looked.”

During class Wednesday, Peen and her friend, 8-year-old Dulcet Reyes, put the finishing touches on a pair of papier-mâche octopuses. Though her favorite color – purple – wasn’t one of the paint colors available, Reyes figured she could experiment with red and blue to find just the right shade.

“I feel like we can come out and play anything we want,” she said. “My favorite part of summer camp is being able to play with (Peen) on the playground. She’s my best friend.”

Even though the camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., attendance is consistent, said Cristian Builds, the site director at Brownell.

“What keeps kids coming is that we’re engaging them,” he said. “Kids are happy to be here. They’re having a great time.”

And when they’re not, “Boy, you’re going to hear about it,” laughed Andrea Nicole, a program director with the YMCA of Silicon Valley.

Though she expected Brownell to be the most challenging site, because of the age range of the students that attend, “the buy-in is incredible,” she said. “Because they’re teens, I figured sometimes they’d come, sometimes they wouldn’t. But not at this site. I think it’s because they’re doing what they want to be doing.”

Next week, Builds will take dozens of middle school students on their first overnight camping trip to Henry Coe State Park.

Maribel Resendis, 15, has never been camping in Henry Coe before and said she was looking forward to the new experience – one of many provided by the summer camp.

Her favorite part of summer camp: “You don’t get bored,” she said. “It gives us something to do instead of being home all the time.”

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