Deer Park Elementary vibrated with the sound of children laughing and learning Tuesday morning.
The school hosts Camp Curiosity, a four-week program that offers migrant children the opportunity to learn and better master the English language.
The camp, which has 27 teachers and 20 assistants, is offered annually and is jointly funded by Daviess County Public Schools and federal funds. There is no registration fee required to attend.
According to Shelly Hammons, camp organizer and administrator, the program began as a way to help students in the Migrant Program, an agricultural education-based program for “highly mobile students” that Congress passed in 1965 for help to learn English.
The program’s success led to its expansion to all English learners in the school district, which currently has about 750 students, Hammons said.
“Every English learner in our district is invited to come,” she said.
Children attending the camp vary by ethnicity, with the district having students from Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, Ukraine, Honduras and Guatemala. All camp participants are DCPS and OPS students, some of whom participate in the Migrant Education Program.
“I’m sort of the principal (of the camp),” Hammons said. “I develop the actual fundamental structure of the whole camp and our district coaches help me build the program. So it’s really a whole Daviess County thing.
Camp is five days a week, for about six hours a day.
Students spend about 3.5 hours on traditional school materials like language arts and math, with the remaining time spent on meals, time in the gym, and a rotation of special electives, from robotics to the music.
Hammons said the camp attracted 280 children its first week, with attendance dipping slightly in the past two weeks. Camp ends Friday.
The main purpose of this camp is to help students stay competitive in school and to introduce children who are new to the United States to the American school system, Hammons said.
“We’re trying to prevent the summer slide,” she said. “A lot of them have gaps, because of the nature of their movement, or some are new to our country…but the overall goal is to develop language acquisition and give them a boost. thumb for their school in the fall.”
The “summer slip” that Hammons tries to prevent is when children, due to their skills becoming obsolete during the summer months, fall behind where they should be in class.
“Some don’t do any reading or math or whatever for the whole summer, and so traditionally they fall back a bit and then you bring them back in the fall,” she said.
Anita Weidemann, an ESL teacher at Deer Park Elementary School, has been involved with the Migrant program for over a decade. She said she planned to continue working at the camp “as long as they let me” because of the importance of the work.
“I love families and I love these kids,” Weidemann said. “They just have a place in my heart. We’re just having a great time. It’s also a wonderful way to build those relationships (with families).
Both Hammons and Weidemann agree that the camp is fun for the students and many of them have said they don’t want it to end.
“I believe it’s a way to bridge that learning gap for these kids,” Weidemann said. “Whether they’re moving frequently or standing still, I just think closing that gap allows kids to be more successful.”