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City summer campers have fun, develop life skills

It’s every kid’s dream for the end of the school year: an escape from the demands of grades, tests, and homework in exchange for nearly three months of summer fun. For over 60 kids each season, the City of Amsterdam Summer Camp at Bacon School makes their daydream come to life for a minimal cost to parents.  Leading the program are directors Christine Dylong, and Colleen McHeard, who were chosen for their experience in child care, physical education, and coaching. Recently, I was able to speak with McHeard about the camp and the impact the program has on the children’s lives.

The camp caters mostly to elementary school kids with the oldest campers at 14 years old. Though most campers bring their own food, the program is a free-meal site which guarantees breakfast and lunch for those without.

According to McHeard, 66% of the district’s children qualify as “economically disadvantaged.”

“Not every kid knows where the next meal is coming from,” said McHeard.

Not only can the children eat, but they learn about healthy practices for life from a local nutrition specialist. Healthy habits are not only dietary. The camp’s ample amount of physical activity and Friday theme days, such as “capture the flag”,  “basketball mania”, and “home run derby”, give everyone a chance to practice interpersonal and group communication skills.

McHeard said some of the games serve as lessons in problem solving, as a hands-on way to prepare them for life’s challenges. The objective isn’t simply to achieve a singular goal, but to work together, listen, and develop leadership skills with peers in preparation for adulthood where the ability to work with others will be essential.

The counselors, most of whom are college and college-bound students with career and academic goals, exemplify these principles every day. It’s not uncommon for them to share their hopes and dreams with the kids in casual conversation.

“The kids look up to them as role models. It really inspires them to finish their education and go to college,” said McHeard.

Another goal, according to McHeard, is interacting with the community, and engaging the spirit of adventure.

“Any time anybody has a chance to do something or try new activities it makes them better as a human being,” she said.

Camp grants kids the opportunity to do things outside of the school regime.  She explained that on any typical school day, kids learn a few different ways how to practice the same rudimentary skill within the same subject. At camp, they have broader options to pick and choose what they want to do during their free time, such as talking with the counselors, throwing a ball around with friends, or imagining the playground equipment is a fearsome buccaneer pirate ship.

McHeard said she hopes the program will one day be able to take the kids on field trips as they have in previous seasons, but hasn’t been an option this season due to the shutdown of the city’s transportation department.

“I’d love to take them to Cooperstown to go to the farmers market, The Baseball Hall of Fame, or the beach,” said McHeard.

Although the cost of the events may be cheap enough, the cost of renting buses for such a large group isn’t currently feasible.

Parents want their kids to have the very most life can offer. Sending them off on a series of educational adventures with their peers for a summer full of discoveries, bonding, and character-building satisfies a need that goes beyond a simple child-care service. The City of Amsterdam Summer Camp engages young minds with hands-on learning, provides essential meals for those who need it, and improves social skills through fun activities, all under the supervision of leaders who are also good role models.

There is still one more week of camp left this year. If you would like your child to attend, click here for more information.

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