TAKS camp helping build skills
Polk County Enterprise, March 2007
LIVINGSTON – Students and teachers from the Lamar Consolidated School District used outdoor facilities at Camp Cho-Yeh to sharpen math and science concepts and develop problem-solving skills and confidence this week.
The annual TAKS camp gives teachers a chance to present essential skills in a new way with practical, hands-on activities to build on those skills, according to Kim Brown, Camp Cho-Yeh’s marketing director.
Students take the lessons learned on the ropes course and in other camp activities back home with them and adapt those new skills to progress in other classroom activities as well as life skills.
“Kids learn better when you offer a different setting,” Brown said. “Coming to Camp Cho-Yeh helps them see things from a new perspective and teachers a new way to teach.”
Cho-Yeh officials have recently presented tours of camp facilities to several officials from other regional districts, including Livingston recently.
Jason Brown, executive director of the camp, holds a master’s degree in education and has designed activities at camp attractions that include lessons on the core areas of the TAKS test.
Relatively simple activities like a scavenger hunt get students up and moving while using skills they must master to advance to the next grade level.
Perhaps most surprising, the junior high participants willingly give up electronic devices like iPods and cell phones, junk food and TV to come to camp.
Lamar Junior High Principal Victoria Bedo said the TAKS camp builds students’ self-confidence and their trust in each other through outdoor activities they look forward to all year.
Building those crucial life skills or even finding activities that students will eagerly join is a growing challenge for school administrators across the nation, camp staff said.
TAKS camp is a nine-year tradition for Lamar Junior High. Eight of those years have been spent at Camp Cho-Yeh.
The benefits of the three-day, two-night experience far outweigh the demands of working out the logistics of shuttling the two groups of 12-year-olds and the project’s expense, Bedo said.
“How do you measure the new levels of confidence? How do you measure the smiles on the faces of children who’ve never experienced the outdoors before?” Bedo said.
The seasoned principal has seen phenomenal gains including sedentary students that complete a half-mile walk or others who find a new eagerness for learning while in this natural setting.
“One student told me today, ‘I’ve never learned this way before’,” Bedo said.
The project began as a pilot program with 100 students. When administrators met with parents to outline the camp program it was eagerly embraced and additional parents wanted their children to participate.
The program is divided into three parts: math and science classes, camp activities like fishing and canoeing and the challenge course like high and low ropes.
Staff members see enough rewards in the program that they agree to chaperone the group without additional pay for the overnight duty, Bedo said.
A crew of 20 teachers and 20 parents shepherds each set of 220 students. Half the group arrives Monday morning and stays through Wednesday lunch while the other half attends regular classes. The groups switch at lunch Wednesday.
Bedo and one assistant principal preside over the traveling group while another assistant principal supervises eighth-graders and non-campers at the campus about two hours south of Livingston. Half of the staff members spend the entire week at camp.
Students aren’t excluded because of special needs, Bedo adds. Students who have health concerns like diabetes, emotional disorders or physical limitations make the trip too.
“We see little increments of growth in students with these additional challenges,” Bedo said.
As an example of the personal growth students achieve during camp, Bedo said this year’s group included two students afraid of heights.
“One child is frightened to death of heights. He was on the high ropes and made it up two rungs,” Bedo said.
Although that climb was limited and he was quite upset for an hour, when another student got scared he encouraged her to complete the climb.
By telling the second student he knew she could do it, even though the first student couldn’t, both students grew, Bedo said.
He grew by going to another student and cheering her on to complete the climb, he got to share in the accomplishment.
Bedo has been ear-marking Title I federal funds to defray the cost of the camp.
Sending the entire seventh grade costs roughly $50,000, she added.
With substantial cuts to the Title I program expected for next year, one program supporter has already offered to help locate corporate sponsors to ensure the camp will continue.
With the sudden increase in gas prices since last year, Lamar’s PTSO stepped forward with about $10,000 to pay for transportation.
Campers travel on chartered commercial buses rather than the district’s buses, she said.
The annual event has since become an asset for the entire district.
Since Lamar Junior High is the only junior high in the district to offer the program, some parents enroll their students at her campus so they can participate, Bedo said.
Only a few students among the entire seventh grade don’t make the trip, she added. Some of those have personal commitments like sporting events that tend to fall in the week before spring break when the camp is scheduled.
Only a very few parents keep their children at home.
Bedo hopes to present the TAKS camp curriculum to all principals from across the state at a summer workshop.