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First Free Day Camp for Kids at Westcott Elementary School

By Wendell Hutson | July 17, 2013 7:05am
 The Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., a nonprofit organization, is sponsoring by free day camp at Westcott Elementary School, which ends Aug. 1.
Youth Day Camp
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AUBURN GRESHAM — Thirty children are wrapping up a five-week summer day camp at a South Side school where a host of activities are offered.

The free camp began July 1 and ends July 31 at Westcott Elementary School, 409 W. 80th St., where children in kindergarten, first, second and third grades meet four days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Among the activities are karate, fishing and gardening, which Janay Laraviere said she likes most.

"I like putting seeds in the ground and watering them. When I went back [two weeks later] to check on my seeds, they were growing," the 5-year-old kindergartner said. "I never knew dirt was good for planting. I wish I had a back yard so I could grow my own tree."

Laraviere was not alone when it came to kids who favored gardening.

"I can't wait for school to start. I am going to show my friends what I grew in the garden," said David Burchett, 6, a first-grader at Westcott. "I'm gonna grow a apple tree before I leave and maybe a tree for some oranges, too. I like fruit."

The summer fun was made possible thanks to the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization, which is sponsoring the camp.

"This was the first time we sponsored a free camp at Westcott. Hopefully we can come back and do it again next year and the year after that, but that all depends on funding," said Sheenita Robinson, the development corporation's program coordinator for the camp. "It's wonderful to see young kids learn something new and something positive that will help them move along in life."

With a staff of 10 including seven interns, the camp has turned out to be a huge success "much like the camp we sponsor at the Perspective middle school," Robinson said. "That summer camp is in its fourth year, and a lot of what we do over there we are duplicating at Westcott."

Sabrina Smoot, who lives in the Ashburn neighborhood, and Jessica Kendall, who lives in DeKalb, are interns for the camp. Both are also seniors at Illinois State University majoring in education.

"It has been a joy working with these kids. I have probably learned more from them than they have from me," said Kendall, 20. "This internship is more than teaching at an urban school. It's also about learning the culture that exist in urban communities like Auburn Gresham."

As part of a partnership between ISU and the development corporation, the Chicago Teacher Pipeline Internship require interns to live in the community where they are teaching for the summer.

"I have a different perspective about Auburn Gresham now that I have lived here the past few weeks," said Smoot, 21. "In the past when I came to the area I would always drive west on 79th Street and see all these abandoned businesses, but now that I have actually stayed in Auburn Gresham, I have learned that there are a lot of nice people in this community."

Most of the kids, like Tayah Cawthon, attending the camp also live in the community.

"Me, personally, I like the karate I learned. The next time a certain person messes with me, I know what to do," said the 9-year-old third-grader at LEARN Charter School in South Chicago. "I can honestly say my summer has been fun this year from coming to camp. I wish it was longer though."

Activities are not the only things available at the camp, said Rosylyn Charles, a program coordinator for the camp.

"Reading is also being taught, too," Charles said.

For Sanniah Robinson, 9, all she wants to do is stay out of harm's way.

"There's too much shooting going on outside. As long as I am inside I know I am safe," said the third-grader at Walt Disney Magnet School. "It's cool sitting under air conditioning all day. It's burning up outside this week."