Student summer camps have been taking place throughout the month of July offering students opportunities to learn before the start of the new school year.

Camp Little Cats, which is in its second year, had approximately 20 participants while Camp Summit, a new program, had an attendance of 40. Both camps were held at Simpson Elementary School to help students during the summer knowledge drought.

"I think it is really important because that summer regression - we have noticed that some students will typically lose four months of growth that they had the previous year," said Michael Barnum, principal of Simpson Elementary School.

Camp Little Cats was a three-week long program held from July 8-25, while Camp Summit was only one-week taking place July 15-18.

Barnum said students who are not reading during the summer or exposed to trips with their families can experience up to six or seven months of growth loss.

"We actually saw students have a four month gain last year in the students that competed Camp Little Cats," he said.

Jennifer Sheffield, an Edge Academy teacher and one of the organizers, said she and other teachers found activities the children were interested in and passionate about during the regular school year.

"Most teachers have things they want to do with kids it just doesn't always fit into the curriculum and you run out of time," she said.

Sheffield had teachers from almost every school in Simpson County participating in one or both of the camps.

Sam Northern, librarian and media specialist of Simpson Elementary, had a lot of STEM and STEAM activities he had not used during the school year.

"This is a chance to try out all the new stuff that he has gotten over the summer and stuff that he has seen," Sheffield said.

Lori Bean, a teacher at Franklin Elementary, had items she had just bought from the book fair that she wanted to teach the students, like ClickIts from the Lego Company.

Jayden Young, 7, who participated in Camp Little Cats, said during one of the classes they would read a book then built something from the book. They had read a story about caterpillars so they used ClickIts to build a caterpillar house.

"We put a trampoline, we put a hamster wheel and we put a big obstacle course," Young said.

Amy Gibson, a teacher at Franklin-Simpson Middle School, taught the kids theater skills such as improv, oral communication and acting.

Olivia Sartor, 8, who participated in Camp Summit, said in theater they played wax museum, like the movie, "Night at the Museum," and they played party guest where the host had to guess what each person was.

"I was a police officer, I can't remember what animal I was and then I was from the fairytale Red Ridding Hood," Sartor said.

Sheffield said Dianne Wade, the elementary Gifted and Talented resource teacher, had more activities she wanted to do with the kids than she did not get to do during the year.

For Camp Little Cats the focus was on improving reading with camp activities thrown in for the students to enjoy.

The four teachers who focused on literacy instruction taught at the camp the year before so they had developed a relationship with the students and knew where the gaps were, Sheffield said. Two other teachers are focused on giving the kids the "camp experience" she said.

"That is where we've got making and building and robots and creativity, so the other side of it is wide open, it is what ever the teacher wants to bring to the table, that they think the kids are going to enjoy," she said.

In the afternoon Robin Hollingsworth from Community Education would bring people from Co-op and 4-H to do to hands on activities with the kids, like making popsicles and ice cream.

Young said they made grape popsicles that they could eat during recess the next day.

Some of the extracurricular teachers for Camp Little Cats have been different due to schedules, vacations and other commitments, Sheffield said, so students get to experience several different activities in the three weeks of camp instead of one or two like last year.

"Our mission and vision is 'Spark Each Student to be ready for success' at Simpson Elementary," Barnum said. "So initially that is what this is, not waiting until the school year to make that spark happen again, but just keep that fire lit the entire time."

Camp Little Cats was open to around 60 students, but only 20 students participated in the camp, Barnum said.

"It is a great experience for the kids, they don't have to be here every single day," Barnum said. "We have students who have swim practice who come in after that, we have some students who have a family reunion they are going to, but if they can at least come 3 of the 4 days or 10 of 15 like Camp Little Cat that would be even better than an all or nothing type of mentality."

Sheffield said next year the goal is to expand to another small camp, four days long like Camp Summit, for the students at Lincoln Elementary and include one for the middle school.

She said expanding may be more difficult because she does not want to have conflicting schedules with the Gifted & Talented activities at Western Kentucky University.

"We don't want to create a conflict because we want our kids to do both and then staffing and funding," Sheffield said.

For more information on summer camp activities for students, contact Simpson County Schools at 270-586-8877 or visit https://www.simpson.k12.ky.us/

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