Attending an overnight summer camp can be an incredible learning experience for a child, even if the camp does not focus on academic subjects. During this temporary absence of a mom or dad figure, children are asked to step out of their comfort zone – they have to interact with other students – “strangers” – of their own age; they are asked to try new activities; they do not always have the diet they have at home; they learn to take responsibility for their own personal care, such as that all-important brushing of their teeth; and on top of that, they are expected to have fun while doing this. For myself, as a parent and an educator, it is very gratifying to witness and perhaps even play a role in this personal growth experience.
However, not every child has the opportunity to attend an overnight summer camp. Given the cost of everything involved in hosting a summer camp – food, teachers, counselors, supplies and insurance (ugh) – camp costs often put this formative experience out of the reach of kids who may benefit the most.
Luckily, here at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, we are fortunate to have an understanding partner in the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) and support from several donors. For many summers, including this most recent one, funds from MASGC and donors have supported scholarships for students to attend our overnight summer camps.
One of Discovery Hall Programs’ (the education and outreach group of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab) most popular camps is the week-long Gulf Island Journey for middle school students. Students arrive at camp Sunday afternoon, and by Sunday evening they are seining for nearshore animals and setting up marine aquariums with their partner, who they may not have known just a few hours before.
Throughout the week, they get up close and personal with a shark by dissecting it; they explore the salt marsh – mud, bugs and all; they go hunting for ghost crabs along the beach at night; they travel by boat to Sand Island to watch the dolphins and look for turtles and sharks; and they take a trip to Mobile Bay aboard our research vessel, the RV Alabama Discovery and sample bay life as the scientists do.
As educators, we work to instill an interest in and a concern for coastal and ocean environments, and to have fun doing it. However, we find that students also learn that if they don’t hang up their towel, it stays wet and doesn’t really dry them off the next time or if they don’t put away their shoes, they don’t miraculously show up in their room the next day. They figure out that they cannot eat their favorite food at every meal but that they will survive if they try something new. And they figure out that they have control over their own happiness.
By the time they leave on Friday, they have increased confidence in themselves, they know a bit more science and have made friends that will stay with them – often throughout many years.
Discovery Hall Programs appreciates the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Port City Pacers, the Freemans and other anonymous donors that make these formative overnight summer camp experiences possible for children.