By DANIELLE ST. PIERRE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A group of about 25 soon-to-be 6th-graders sat in a semi-circle inside the Maple Avenue Middle School auditorium last week and discussed bullying, verbal self-defense and alternatives to violence in school, and explained what values helped inform their decision to “say no” to various social pressures.
All-Stars Camp Program Director Erin Lloyd led the discussion, asking the students not only to agree or disagree with decisions made in simulated scenarios, but to also articulate why they believed it.
Later in the day, the deep discussion erupted into water games, with students doing everything they could to get each other wet.
The All Stars Camp — formerly called D.A.R.E. All Stars Camp — is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer.
The day program is comprised of four sessions that run this month and next, with space for 48 6th-grade students from the Saratoga Springs City School District in each session. The program features a variety of sports and crafts, team-building activities and teaching sessions that aim to expose students to smart, healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol, promoting good decisions.
Some recent hits among the students included a smoothie-making activity that taught a hands-on approach to nutrition, and a series of outdoor water relays to beat the sweltering heat.
The camp was founded as a collaboration among Saratoga Springs city schools, the Saratoga Springs Police Department, the Partnership for Prevention and the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council in the summer of 2002 to respond to anxiety among children and parents about the transition to middle school, as well as elevated substance use at the middle school level.
Saratoga Springs resident Patty Folts has sent three of her children to All Stars Camp. She said the program has been helpful in preparing students for middle school and helping to smooth that crucial transition.
Folts said the program exposed her children to bullying, substance abuse and peer pressure that often begins in middle school, and helped broach sensitive issues that were then much easier to talk about openly at home. Folts’ son, Ryan, now a senior in high school, had such a positive experience in All Stars that he later became a counselor at the camp.
“All Stars makes the learning fun,” Folts said.
Lloyd, who is a middle-school teacher in addition to the program’s director, started as a counselor at All Stars 10 years ago and has since helped the program grow into a more self-sustaining body, which she said constantly changes to educate students through current, more creative approaches.
“We want to give these kids access to a wide range of activities and open their minds,” Lloyd said.