Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Camp Chronicles

During my formative years, my twin sister, Joy, and brother Franklin went to a summer arts camp and did remarkable things like make movies, build robots and stilt walk.

In a painting class I took one year, all 20 of us campers walked two blocks away to a large, family house and spent the month painting a bedroom for a newborn baby with clouds, a moon and stars.

(The art teacher pushed all our paint and brushes in a cart.)

It was called Country Day Creative Arts Camp and it sent us booklets in the mail each year before camp started, and we could pick the top TEN classes we wanted from the 30 or so offerings (yoga, juggling, tennis, fencing, movie making, mosaics.)

It was like the continuing education classes I fantasize about taking in the brochures I get from the community college: intro to gardening, sewing, intro to knife and chopping skills ( To properly slice meat in front of company, of course.)

Picking classes at Country Day Creative Arts summer camp was like that, only free reign to choose whatever I wanted to do all summer! And I got to take five classes!

Joy and I almost always picked the same classes, which included swimming (held at the backyard swimming pool of another large family house two blocks away), pottery, musical and cooking. 

(Seriously. Cooking. In the school’s massive cafeteria. We took turns pretending to lock each other inside the walk-in freezer.)

The musical class put on a full-length musical at the end of every summer, an HOUR-LONG performance, with memorized lines and elaborate costumes.

I remember being a camper, blissfully switching classes every hour, excited about what we were going to do in the next class.

On the first day, all 300 campers met in the auditorium and were told that year’s theme.

Also exciting was gathering together on the first day of camp to hear about the camp's theme each year. It was a theme that all classes would touch upon in their class projects for the final festival at the end of camp.

The festival was on a Saturday, and all of our parents and friends were invited to see our artwork, hear our musical performances and watch the play.

One year, the theme was "dreams," so all the classes worked on a final project that had something to do with dreams. 
It was, unknowingly at the time, genius.

The movie class made a movie about one camper’s “nightmare” and filmed the main character and supporting characters in different parts of the camp wearing crazy masks.

The basket weaving instructor had everyone make dreamcatchers that were displayed hanging on the oak trees during the festival.

It gave the camp a sense of purpose: finish each project in time for the festival in order to showcase it.

And we were tricked into learning. 

Thrown into the classes were the history of the art form, proper texture painting techniques, a sense of a deadline and teamwork. They even worked math in there. Bastards.

When we got too old to be campers, we were asked if we wanted to "intern" and all three of us did. 
The second year, we even got paid.

Not surprisingly, I chose to pair with the writing/poetry teacher. I must have been 13 or 14. 

The theme that year was Indian princess, because “an Indian princess went missing in New Orleans” campers were told, and the whole camp had to make projects that reflected Indian culture in order to "lure her back.” 
(Hahahahaha)

I helped the kids who signed up for writing class write poems about India and stories of where they would go if they were lost wandering around New Orleans. (There was a poetry reading at the end of camp.)

It was a ridiculously good idea for a camp, which I never realized from my camper purview. 
Until this week.

Because this week, THIS WEEK, I was the teacher.
It's not the same camp, but it's still a camp, with a writing class, that kids sign up for, and I'M their fearless leader.

Campers got to pick three classes they wanted to take each day, from newspaper (me! The laid-off editor!!!), puppetry, art, African dance and drumming and hip-hop.

How I got these elementary school kids to pick newspaper from those options is beyond me.

The goal is to publish a newspaper about the camp written by the students at the end of the month. 
It needs to be finished and published by the day of the final performance, to distribute to all the parents.

And I’ve been having a panic attack every day.

An internal panic attack of course, as I coaxed the kids into interviewing each other, moderated "newspaper bingo" and started a rousing game of mad libs, where they had to come up with their own nouns, adjectives and adverbs to insert into a fake "sick note" to the nurse.

They all seemed to have fun learning new words and being little reporters, but really, really they were learning about Indian princesses grammar and subject verb agreement.

I didn’t mention to my boss who hired me for this summer camp mission that I went to a camp like this, or how much fun I had.

And, woah, it was SO MUCH MORE FUN being on the other side.

I’ve been spending my days planning lessons to keep the campers entertained, laying out a calendar of what articles need to be written on what days and ways tol trick convince them to write.

Being a teacher was never my career plan, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been taking over-the-counter Tagamet for heartburn/WhatAmISupposedToDoWithTheseKids syndrome.

Because I remember how I felt as a camper and how important each class seemed. And I’ve been putting an enormous amount on pressure on myself to emulate the Country Day Creative Arts teachers with fun, (seeming) effortless daily lessons. 

Which is why the Tagament is clutched in my right hand.

I've got all that, in addition to learning other things about being a teacher, like if kids say “shut up” to one another, it should be treated with the same severity as if they said the "F" word.

Or, if you tell a kid he can be “first” in a game, then you better make effing sure he goes first because if you forget and call on someone else first, he'll starts to cry.

Oh, and you need to BRING YOUR OWN LUNCH to camp.

Yes, I forgot my lunch the first day, thinking I could run over to a take-out restaurant, à la my old office life.
No. It's a lock-in.
The first day of camp, I had a bottle of water for lunch.

After tomorrow, I have three weeks left to bust out a newspaper. 

And teach the kids how to write. 
And read. 
And form sentences.

Maybe next week, maybe I'll have them write about what they’d do if they found themselves lost, wandering around New Orleans.

-Jenny

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