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YMCA camps partner to help kids keep school skills sharp

Date: 3/27/2014

By Debbie Gardner

GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Summer vacation may be a welcome break to study-weary students, but those lazy days away from learning are a big worry for educators and parents.

“Studies have shown that on average, students lose close to three months of learning during the summer,” Kirk Smith, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, said.

The Y, which serves 110,000 individuals in 14 cities and towns surrounding Springfield, is gearing up to help stem that learning loss among its younger clients this summer. The plan is to skillfully weave enrichment programs into the fun of attending summer camp.

Dave Farrell, associate executive director of education, said the Springfield Y has partnered with three organizations – Link to Libraries, the Springfield City Library, and the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative (HSLI) – to introduce a variety of learning activities into camp days at its Camp Webber, its downtown Y and its Dunbar Community Center locations this summer.

Camp Webber, the Y’s outdoor day camp facility in West Springfield, will be expanding the successful Books on the Bus program. Run in partnership with Link to Libraries, this program encourages reading and helps campers build a personal library.

“We give children books to read on the trip to and from camp,” Uriah Rodriguez, assistant director of outreach for the Y, said. “Children who are reading have their time logged by the bus monitor, about 20 minutes a day. Those who participate and complete the program are invited to an end-of-the-program party exclusively for [them].”

The books, supplied by Links to Libraries, cover a wide range of topics and reading abilities. Participants get to keep the book they choose.

Last year, the Y offered Books on the Bus on one of its camp bus routes. This year, Rodriguez said the program is being expanded to two routes.

“The kids in the bus [program] really do remark how much they love to read on the bus,” Rodriguez said. “It’s surprising how something so simple, works.”

At Camp Fun City – the Y’s downtown Springfield program for children 6 to 8 years of age, and 5 year-olds starting first grade in the fall, Rodriguez said the Y is incorporating both the City Library’s Summer Reading Program and curriculum-based learning activities designed in conjunction with HSLI.

The Summer Reading Program is an honor system, Rodriguez said. Campers choose from a selection of books provided by the library, and are asked to read for 20 minutes per day. Campers who complete the reading assignment get to keep the book they choose, and select another from the collection. Field trips to visit the library and visits from city librarians are also part of the partnership.

Activities at Camp Fun City will also incorporate elements of HSLI’s literature-based curriculum.

“Sports activities, cooking activities, even a field trip activity; all activities from Hasbro have a built-in learning component and our staff goes to a large training where they are taught [the program],“ Rodriguez said. Hasbro also sends coaches to support the staff and help them incorporate the educational elements into camp activities.

According to Rodriguez, the same two enrichment programs would be incorporated into programming at Camp Fun City East at the Dunbar Y Family & Community Center on Oak Street, the Y’s summer camp for children from 9 to 12 years of age.

And both Camp Fun City programs will live up to their name, Rodriguez added.

“Aside from the literacy [program] campers have access to all our Y facilities, the pool, gymnasium, aerobics rooms, music labs and there are outdoor components,” he said. “These are supplemented by field trips to libraries, field trips to local state parks and local pools, and skating at Cyr Arena [in Forest Park] and the Mass Mutual Center.”

Farrell said the Y also offers one more summer camping opportunity at its Stony Brook Acres facility in Wilbraham. This camp, which offers a half-day program for preschoolers 3 and 4 years of age, and full day programs for children from 5 to 15 years of age, provides a traditional slate of outdoor day camp activities including swimming, archery, and games.

Farrell said a large component of the leaning activities at this camp are based on team building, which has been identified as another crucial element in modern education.

“Team building begins with our counselors [at Stony Brook] and runs through all activities at all ages,” Farrell said, adding campers are taught “to interact, observe, and assess a situation.”

Twelve-year old Michelle Senecal of Springfield, a Stony Brook camper since the age of 5, said attending camp has given her many things, a wider circle of friends, a chance to learn new skills and explore the area on field trips, and most importantly, an appreciation of the importance of learning to get along with others.

“The best thing I’ve ever learned is how to work as a team,” Senecal said. “We do a lot of team building activities [at Stony Brook]. They prepare us for when we grow up and we have to work with others. We learn all the values of growing up.”

Farrell said all of the Y camps run from approximately “the last day of school to the first day of school, except for July 4,” for a total of 49 days. The prices are very competitive with other summer camping opportunities in the area, and “we do accept vouchers and in-house financial aid for parents who can’t afford to have their children go to camp. We don’t turn anyone away based on finances.”

Online registration for this year’s programs has begun. Farrell said parents could find out more about Y summer camps at under the camp tab.

Smith said the Y, which is the largest educator in Western Massachusetts that is not a school, is proud to be part of an outreach that will help kids of all ages be ready for their next school challenge.

“Research that points to the loss of learning during the summer months, also demonstrates marked gains in cognitive and effective achievement for students when they participate in learning outside of the classroom through enrichment programs,” Smith said. “High quality summer learning opportunities, such as the many camp opportunities offered by the YMCA of Greater Springfield, keep students engaged in learning, teach new skills, foster creativity and positively impact their self-esteem and confidence.”