A group of children learned to take a look at themselves.
Children sat in a character education class during the Blue Ridge Community Center's first summer camp as their mentor asked them to describe themselves on paper. The catch? They couldn’t use physical descriptions.
Some in the kindergarten-to-fifth grade class said they couldn’t think of anything until their mentor prompted them with questions about their lives and what they like to do. Instead of using phrases like, “I’m tall,” they wrote things like, “I’m kind,” “I’m friendly,” and, “I like to help people.”
“They’re character traits that set you up for the future and help you determine what you ultimately end up being one day,” said Gisele Butler, summer camp director. “You can seek jobs by what you like to do.”
Bringing these kinds of lessons to students in the main center building in Seneca, S.C., is what Helen Rosemond-Saunders meant when she said, “Our goal is to put life back into that building, and into the community.”
Rosemond-Saunders is a board member and secretary for the nonprofit, which is devoted to bringing educational opportunities to community young people and adults. The half-day program ran from July 12 to Aug. 5 and got its start thanks to a $6,000 grant from Duke Energy. The company is committed to supporting childhood education, science and technology learning and combating pandemic learning loss in its seven-state service area.
Every weekday morning, children came in for breakfast at their desks, followed by math and reading, then sessions featuring art, physical education or character education. They went home midday with a packed lunch.
“We were aware that, during summer, so many of the kids slide, so we knew it was important to have rigor in preparing for math and reading,” said Rosemond-Saunders. The program aimed to accomplish 3 to 5 percentage points in terms of educational gains across 16 days of camp.
As for character education, Rosemond-Saunders said, “During our careers, we’ve noticed that a lot of kids’ behavior is not positive, so we wanted to also teach kids how to behave. The way you carry yourself, the way you speak to people, the way you treat people is as important as your math and reading.”
The support for this summer program is one of 46 grants awarded to organizations across South Carolina by Duke Energy this year that could address COVID-19-related learning issues, specifically programs helping underserved communities.
“Duke Energy has always been a part of the communities that we serve, and programs like this are a great example of such investments,” said Amanda Dow, Duke Energy stakeholder manager. “Our primary goals with these education grants were to help boost after-school and summer programs and address learning gaps that were created or widened because of the environment COVID forced many schools to revert to.”
Character education offerings were a theme across grant proposals as a result of remote learning.
“We felt like the combination of the reading and math curriculum and the character mentor component was a great fit with our grant focus,” Dow said, “and we are excited about this partnership with the Blue Ridge Community Center and the impact it will have on these children.”
With their revelations from character education and the feeling of improvement during classes, one of the main hopes of summer camp educators is just that the kids feel celebrated and accomplished. And inspired.
“We’re hoping,” Butler said, “that encourages them to come back.”
A glimpse of other Duke Energy grants across the country
Florida: The Orange County Library System received $5,000 for Summer Reading Program Outreach to Overcome COVID Divide.
Indiana: Purdue University received $50,000 for projects like a summer camp focused on empowering women in business.
Kentucky: Northern Kentucky University received $30,000 to provide science, technology, engineering and mathematics development to teachers.
North Carolina: Durham Public Schools received $25,000 to offer experiential outdoor learning opportunities to students on a 30-acre farm, forest and outdoor learning center.