Summer camps booked solid, build community

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Salem-Keizer Public Schools are hosting nearly 200 camp sessions this summer, and it still wasn’t enough to meet the interest of students and families.

“I am still getting calls every day to see if we can squeeze more kids in, but we are full,” said Nichole Spearman-Eskelson, the district’s coordinator of summer programming. Each of the various camps being offered topped out at 25-30 students.

After a year of what can, generously, be described as “abnormal,” the camps are providing opportunities to reconnect with classrooms, teachers and friends throughout the district.

The programs are being funded, in large part, through grants from the Oregon Department of Education. The Oregon Legislature allotted more than $200 million in state and federal funding to offer enrichment programs for K-8 students. For high school students, only credit-recovery programming is covered by the same funding.

“The grant funding completely changed the landscape,” said Spearman-Eskelson. “Because it was short notice, we had a meeting with all the district teachers and qualified instructional assistants with an interest in teaching a camp. Most of the camp content came from them.”

The array of free programming includes topics such as foreign languages, engineering, cooking, performing arts and fused glass. Whenever possible, professionals working in the various fields have been enlisted to assist in instruction. The district was also able to offer some limited transportation options for students who needed it.

“One of the greatest things we can do as a school district is provide connection and care,” Spearman-Eskelson said. “If they happen to feel safer at school and get academic enrichment along the way, that’s a bonus, but really we know that students need to feel connected to their peers and adults.”

While the programs are getting a much-needed boost this summer, continued funding isn’t unlimited. Still Spearman-Eskelson is paying close attention to the programs to the response from the community to set priorities as the district moves forward.

“We’ve been able to create a lot of new partnerships as a result of what’s going on with the summer camps – it’s not every day that a third grader gets to work with an industry partner,” she said. “At the same time, we have kids coming from throughout the district to schools they wouldn’t normally be at. That’s creating a whole new level of community in our schools.”