By Summer Howatt-Nab
Listen: Contagious laughter and the occasional squeal pierce the sun-bleached morning air as kids playfully pelt each other with water balloons. It's outdoor water activity day for the National Youth Sports Program, a branch of the summer enrichment program Kids on Campus.
They're not your typical kids on campus, hustling across the greens and crosswalks, backpacks in tow. They're pint-sized versions. Kids on Campus, consisting of roughly 500 kids between the ages of 6 and 16, fill college kids' shoes during the summer months, adding a unique energy to the Ohio University campus.
The Kids on Campus 2004 summer program is finished, but for 6 weeks every summer it offers three kinds of enrichment: Nutrition, recreation and academics. This mix is offered in all three Kids on Campus programs: Primary Academy, Bank One Intermediate Academy and the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP). The teams in each program rotate from one area of campus to another, participating in activities ranging from robotics to sports. All 500-plus kids migrate to Nelson Commons for breakfast and lunch.
Since 1996, the-award winning Kids on Campus program has served up full hot breakfasts and lunches alongside educational and recreational enrichment, giving preference to lower-income children. One reason the program began was to guarantee Appalachian children healthy, balanced meals.
"When they're in school they're eligible for free lunches, but in the summer they may not be getting good nutrition," says Linda Lockhart, director of communication of the College of Health and Human Services, whose department is the administrative hub of the Kids on Campus community partnership.
The program also opens the door to a fun-filled summer for area kids who may not otherwise be able to go to camp, Lockhart points out. It's even a financial addition for the whole family in some cases, employing parents in the program. "Kids on Campus reaches a lot of different people on the peripheries," Lockhart says.
The summer program enriches minds and bodies with entertaining activities. After all, it's summertime and fun in the sun is a must for kids. The Primary Reading Academy mixes up reading comprehension with field trips. Team leader Sarah Lozecki takes part in games like red light, green light with her team of 5, 6 and 7 year olds. "They're all really bright kids on different reading levels," Lozecki says.
The Bank One Intermediate Academy packs robotics and swimming into a typical day. Meanwhile, the National Youth Sports Program mixes two hours of physical activity with alcohol and drug awareness classes, says NYSP Camp Director Erin Hemmelgarn. In such a class, a correct answer to a drug prevention question is rewarded with a shot at a makeshift basketball hoop. "The team leaders make it so interactive, it's just great," says Marilyn Wentworth, Kids on Campus Assistant Program Director.
The Performing Arts Series also hosts shows on the Green for Kids on Campus.
"We all go up there on Tuesdays, Nelson Commons ships in 500 little bag lunches and we all just plop down on the green and watch a show. The kids love it," Wentworth says.
These kids are also taking their first steps toward a career path. Through career scavenger hunts, kids are learning that college is not so scary. "Kids on Campus demystifies what college and education at a higher level is all about," Lockhart says.
"The fact that we're on a college campus takes some fears away," Wentworth adds. "They realize it's just a great place that offers a lot of opportunities."
All these academic and fun-filled opportunities for Athens County kids are made possible through generous donations from local social welfare programs, schools, private foundations, plus a $90,000 donation from Bank One. The NYSP program is funded through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Area businesses like Kroger donate food and snacks to the program, and some donations carry over into Kids on Campus' before-and-after-school programs.
Kids on Campus has morphed from a six-week summer day camp into a year-round program, complete with before-and-after-school programs for Athens County's school districts. Kids on Campus will also be taking the Alexander School District under its wing this fall.
"It's not just this big summer camp. Tutoring, enrichment activities and nutritious snacks are offered during the school year, too," Wentworth says, explaining that the summertime Kids on Campus program ends July 30, because "we're gearing up for fall, kind of catching our breath and starting all over again."
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Summer Howatt-Nab, BSJ '04, is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.