When you think of summer camp, images of kickball, swimming pools and snack time probably come to mind. But, that’s your typical summer camp — the kind that’s experiencing an enrollment plunge, thanks to recession woes.

At First Baptist Church-West, summer camp takes on a whole new meaning. In fact, the program is so different, they don’t even call it a “camp.”

That’s because there’s a lot more going on than fun and games at the Clara H. Jones Summer Institute, where students, ages 5-13, split their day between academic and fine arts programs. Every Friday they go on an educational field trip.

High schoolers aren’t excluded. A two-week aviation and leadership camp is offered for them, taught by the Charlotte Chapter of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots and a leadership consultant. Students who complete the program are allowed to fly a small plane on the final day the program.

“You cannot get anything better than what they have here,” said Candace Cochran, a parent who is sending her children, Lance and Spencer, to the Institute for the first time this summer.

Cochran said she expected them to complain about the academics, which fill the program’s afternoons and focus on math, science, reading and writing. Instead, her son is setting reading goals and her daughter has finally mastered multiplication tables.
“Whatever they did,” said Cochran, “they made it click for her.”

It’s not just the academics, said Cochran, which she called “exceptional.” For her, a big part of the lure was the opportunity to expose her children to the arts.

The program, which draws children from all over the city, is in its sixth year. Licensed CMS teachers and local artists fill the classrooms while CMS staff man the kitchen where three meals per day are prepared for the students.

Every morning, the children take chorus and participate in the fine art of their choice, chosen at the beginning of the program. Choices include piano, violin, art, dance and chorus. After lunch, they’re divided by grade and gender for academic lessons.

Angel Fritz, the program’s director and a Myers Park High School African Studies and Sociology teacher, says children are evaluated academically in some areas at the beginning and end of the program.

The first test tells the teachers where the child stands; the second lets them know how far they’ve come.

“They’re not just playing,” said Fritz, “they’re growing.

Art teacher, Don Buzzee, agrees. This summer he introduced his classes to Picasso and taught them about the art behind African masks. Then, he instructed the students to create their own self-portrait, inspired by both.

Local artist Queen Miller says she is drawn to teach at the program because she loves to share her art with children. She’s helped her class create the backdrop for this year’s end-of-program event that echoes this year’s theme: “For God so loved the earth.”

The program’s organizers decided to add a twist to the meaning of the popular Bible verse to help raise awareness about the environment.

For more information on First Baptist Church-West’s Summer Institution or afterschool program, visit their Web site at www.fbcwest.org or call (704) 372-3742.

Young choral students rehearsing for Friday’s performance.

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