Camp teaches kids skill for middle school and beyond

July 29, 2015

Featured in: The Saratogian

Story by: Jennie Grey

Link to full article can be found here:

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> When Maple Avenue Middle School opens in September, 192 new sixth-graders will know their way around the halls and around the challenges of adolescence, thanks to the Prevention Council’s All Stars Camp.

The summer day camp, which runs in four one-week-long sections at Maple Ave., was developed in response to local youth and parent survey results, which showed that the middle-school transition years are critical in determining at-risk behavior in later adolescence. The program is a collaborative effort of the Prevention Council, the Saratoga Springs City School District and the Saratoga Springs City Police Department — all organizations that are key partners of the Saratoga Partnership for Prevention.

“Our campers are fifth-graders going into sixth grade,” said camp Director Matt Jones, a Saratoga Springs High School English teacher. “We help them transition into the school building itself, and also teach them about how to navigate the larger challenges of middle school and of life.”

Through games, activities, scenarios, role-playing, skits and guest speakers, the All Stars staff teaches campers to make good decisions about tobacco, alcohol and drugs, as well as violence, peer pressure, bullying and online safety.

The camp has resonated through school grades, so that some junior counselors, counselors and adult staff have been connected to the program for years.

Tyler Clute, who’s going into eighth grade at Maple Avenue, has the snappy designation of superhelper at camp: a senior junior counselor. He is a camp alumnus and a member of the All Stars Club that meets after lunch during the school year.

“Camp was really fun for me when I was going into sixth grade,” he said. “We did a lot of cool activities. I also made new friends.”

All Stars Camp did more than offer fun times for Clute and his peers. The superhelper said he also learned important life skills.

“I found out how to handle peer pressure and how to just say no,” he said. “I also learned about the importance of having a good reputation, and now as a junior counselor, I get to show leadership.”

Clute’s fellow junior counselor, seventh-grade helper Aidan Byrnes, came from Greenfield Elementary School, which had only 60 kids in the entire fifth grade that year, to the much bigger middle school. Byrnes said it was great to meet new friends before school classes even started.

The campers have plenty of time to play. The kids do a water-balloon toss, build rockets, juggle, make frames for their team photos and tie-dye T-shirts. All Stars offers the choice of Zumba, yoga and karate each week. A naturalist from Saratoga Spa State Park comes in for presentations, often with frogs, said camp Co-Director Evan Williamson, a Saratogian who now teaches at Hoosic Valley.

July 28, emergency medical technician and paramedic Joel Fey of Wilton Greenfield Ambulance Co. taught one group of campers about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), with the help of robotic training manikin Wilt. The kids shared half-manikins, practicing chest compressions.

“If a person isn’t moving, is not awake and is not breathing, you should start compressions,” Fey said.

A second group of kids learned about nutrition with members of the Prevention Council, including Youth Specialist Kaitlin Sicke.

“Nutrition is a big part of the council’s curriculum,” she said. “We teach the campers to balance what they eat with what they do.”

One of the nutrition exercises was for the kids to do a mock shopping trip to a display of donations they had brought in for the Wilton Food Pantry. The students read labels and selected items that made up a healthy meal.

A group of girls drew portion sizes on paper plates, then colored in chicken legs and veggies. They agreed that the best part of All Stars was making friends.

“I didn’t want to come to camp at first,” said sixth-grader Katherine Marriott. “Then I felt better because I met her and her.” She pointed to her fellow campers Lauren Haase and Nora Carminucci.

Haase agreed, saying, “I didn’t want to go, either. I said, ‘Mom, I want to hang out with my friends!’ But now I’ve made new friends.”

Carminucci had a more open mind toward camp, since her older sister had gone to All Stars two years ago and really liked it. Carminucci’s biggest adjustment to camp was lunch, she said.

“In fifth grade, we had lunch at 1 p.m.,” she said. “Here, we eat at 11 a.m. It’s so early.”

During the nutrition portion of camp, pantry Director Peter Maynard spoke to the kids, telling them about the food pantry and whom it helps.

“Last year, we assisted 178 families, with 614 people,” he said. “Some 212 of them were children.”

For him, it’s important to connect the campers with the larger world. He said he’s always enjoyed this kind of work, doing something bigger than himself.

Adult staffer Laura Steinbiss, a special education teacher at Lake Avenue Elementary School, has been an All Stars counselor for 10 years.

“This camp is so unique to Saratoga Springs,” she said. “There’s no re-creating it.”