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Youths exploring topics from rockets to music
to animation at popular Kids' College
July 26, 2013
It’s just before 11 a.m. on a blazing hot summer morning in July, and the sixth floor corridor of the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Campus is calm and quiet. Jim Fitzgerald paces the hallway in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the CCRI Kids’ College, looking at his watch and waiting.
Suddenly, the doors open and the wing comes alive with the motion and chatter of more than 130 excited campers – smiling, laughing and comparing notes from their classes while they wait for their next adventure to begin. In the span of a morning here, they will journey from building rocket ships to animating cartoons to making frozen treats. Some will stretch their brains, some will build robots, and some will paint and repurpose art. But all of them will have fun.
It’s Fitzgerald’s 13th year working for Kids’ College, and his fourth as on-site coordinator for the programs. It’s his responsibility to be on the ground making sure that everything runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis. “This session is the largest group we’ve ever had,” he said, a fact confirmed by Suzanne B. Mascena, the camp’s coordinator.
The program, which takes place over two two-week sessions each summer, is wildly popular, said Mascena. In her five years as coordinator, she’s seen the program continue to grow and change: Last year, they expanded the age to 14, and this year, they were able to add a handful of new classes as well as a different afternoon experience.
Advanced classes have been added for students who are ready for them, Mascena said. Because of camper and parent demand, Mascena said that students can now take place in either an “Active Afternoon” or an “Artful Afternoon” after their lunch break. Fitzgerald adds that students in the former partake in physical activities outside, while students who opt for the latter can immerse themselves in different arts and crafts as led by their teachers. The new session proved to be a popular choice, said Fitzgerald.
In terms of the new classes, Mascena said that this year is the first where offerings have included Intro to Animation, where campers learn to make whiteboard animations to bring cartoons to life as well as the principles of animation; Multimedia: Make Your Own Music, where campers use professional-grade equipment to make a CD of their own; and Bon Appétit!, which moves campers from the basics of measurement to dreaming up their own restaurant.
In one Bon Appétit class, the air is redolent with the cold, comforting smells of sugar and cream as teacher Tracey Kareemo watches a camper pour ingredients into a frosty sphere. When she’s helped the camper figure out the proportions for the recipe – they’re making their own ice cream – she caps off the contraption and sends him on his way across the hall to meet his team, where they’ll roll the balls across the room for 10 minutes at a time until their treats are ready to enjoy.
Kareemo, who is a fourth grade teacher in Pawtucket, said that she loves watching the campers learn and become passionate about table etiquette, how to read a recipe, how to write a restaurant menu and more. In between making their own trail mix and watching instructional videos, she’s seen students bring their own experience to her curriculum, too. “One camper asked me where the chopsticks go on a place setting,” she said. “We had to look it up together! It was really interesting.”
Down on the floor with his future ice cream, 10-year-old camper Max Farrell said that he’s definitely enjoying the new class. This is Max’s fourth year at Kids’ College, and as he rolls the ball across the floor to his teammates, he said that the new classes and the counselors keep him coming back. “Everyone is so nice here,” he said.
Ellia Sweeney, also 10 and in her second year, said that she has made a lot of friends at the camp, and that her classes are always “a lot of fun.”
Fitzgerald said that the positive feedback he routinely receives from parents and campers alike is perhaps the most fulfilling part of his job. “The kids and parents love the program, and getting to see the look on all their faces and know how much fun they are having is so rewarding,” he said, noting that some of the college-aged counselors who have come back to work for him were campers here once.
“It’s a wonderful option, especially for working parents,” said Mascena. “Not only is it a safe environment for their kids, and not only because they’re having so much fun, but because they’re also learning. Even though it’s the summer, and even though it’s camp, they’re still learning skills that they need for school and life.”
Mascena adds that Kids’ College is often sold out almost immediately after enrollment opens up, so she encourages parents to visit the website. Updated information about next year’s program will be posted by late winter or early spring.