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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Family members tape their children during Wellspring’s Summer Day Camp celebration at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center Thursday. This year’s camp encouraged parental involvement with a first-day open house and weekly letters to parents.

A summer of learning

Campers in the Wellspring Interfaith Social Services summer program showed off dance and music routines during a family celebration last week. What they learned in seven weeks of camp should allow them to show off even more when they return to school next month.

This year’s camp was designed to enhance summer learning. It’s an important goal because research shows that students – particularly those from low-income homes – lose as much as five weeks of learning each summer, requiring teachers to spend time reinforcing previous lessons.

A Foellinger Foundation grant allowed Wellspring to contract with the National Summer Learning Association for an assessment of its summer camp program. After a two-day site visit last year, the association offered recommendations to increase staff training and support and to set goals emphasizing academics and development of 40 assets determined to help children succeed.

Jeanne Tritch, a Study Elementary School teacher, was program coordinator for the camp, which grew by almost 20 percent this year in drawing about 325 students a day to program sites in the central-city area. Tritch said a programming committee decided to focus on engaging parents in their children’s activities and engaging campers in summer learning.

Wellspring Director Frank Zirille said the summer learning assessment prompted the addition of an extra hour of camp each day. Children 4 to 17 participated in the free camp, which is supported by about $34,000 in sponsorships. Tritch said each age group worked at least an hour a day on reading, math and critical-thinking skills.

“You think, ‘Why would a 17-year-old boy want to get up and go to camp every day?’ but the activities were designed to be fun,” she said.

Campers in the kindergarten-grade 1 group created zoo books – writing sentences and illustrating their work in connection with a visit to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. Students in grades 8 through 11 were assigned a research project.

All of the campers were enrolled in Allen County Public Library’s summer reading program, with an hour a week devoted to a library visit. The students also had weekly field trips and sessions in art, music, dance and yoga.

For many students, vacations and visits to museums, zoos and libraries are a routine part of summer break. The rich lessons in vocabulary, geography, science and more often are taken for granted in middle- and upper-income families. For students whose families don’t have the time or money to enjoy those experiences, programs such as Wellspring’s summer camp are essential.

Look for the extra attention its directors paid to summer learning to show promising results in the classroom this fall.