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City Year vacation camp: Cooler than staying home

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 27. 2012 10:47PM

Jonery Couz, 8, left, and Nevaeh Squires, 7, of Manchester, participate in an ‘Oregon Trail'-themed obstacle game with their teammates Monday morning at Bakersville Elementary School as part of City Year Winter Kids Camp. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Staying active and entertained during February vacation can be a challenge for children who aren't hitting the slopes or heading to a warmer climate this week. To help stave off boredom, City Year is holding its second annual Winter Camps for Kids from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Friday. More than 200 children have joined the camp, which combines physical activities and educational projects.

'We want to provide a safe, energetic atmosphere for kids to go during vacation,' said Jared Field, a City Year Corps member from New Jersey who headed camp membership and recruitment this year. 'We got a lot of calls from parents who said their kids went last year and how much they loved it and were looking forward to coming back this year.'

This year's theme is 'The Quest of the American Adventurer,' which focuses on U.S. geography and history. The mission is to teach the importance of teamwork, instill community pride and show students the diversity of the country. Each day focuses on a different region of the country. On Monday, the children were learning about the West. Students at Bakersville Elementary School were on the playground running an Oregon Trail-inspired obstacle course. Inside, another group was learning about the ecology of American deserts and converting the lesson into art projects. Others were sharing tall tales of folk heroes like Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill in the library.

The Winter Camps for Kids are being held at Bakersville and Gossler Park Elementary School. The program is open to students between kindergarten and fifth grade who attend one of the schools in which City Year is involved. Field said the camp activities and curriculum were created by first-year staffers. Planning began in November and was almost entirely done after City Year staff finished their regular workday.

The focus, said Field, is on the third- through fifth-grade population, which City Year has targeted throughout the year with tutoring and drop-out prevention programs.

On Monday, third-grader Dakhila Ali was navigating a pretend 'river' as part of the camp's outdoor Oregon Trail game.

'It's really fun,' she said about the camp. 'I like the games.'

If it weren't for the camp, Ali said, she'd probably be at home watching TV and hanging out with her cousins. At the City Year camp, Ali gets to see her friends.

'It's a lot better,' she said.

Fellow third-grader Cameron Elliott was also a fan of the winter camp. He met new children this week, instead of spending time at home playing video games, Elliott said.

Students are broken into teams, each headed by a City Year member. These teams start the morning together and then all gather for a meeting and physical activity. Students break off into groups, some heading outdoors for a game, others participating in more relaxed activities, said Field. Lunch is provided as well, thanks to donations from Chestnut Street Downtown Diner, Piccola Italia Ristorante, Puritan Backroom, Dos Amigos, The Farm and Panera Bread.

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