Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Summer camp offers at-risk youth cultural experiences

For most kids, the summer break is a welcome relief from school, homework and tests. But for some, the ones whose families aren’t taking vacations or even day trips to the mountains, the summer break can seem interminable.

Summertime for many of the young people Bridge serves can get boring fast. Family incomes average just over $10,000 per year for a family of four — not leaving anything for entertaining kids over the summer. 

The result is what educators call “academic regression.” Lessons learned over the school year are forgotten over the long, hot summer.

But through the Bridge Project’s 10th annual summer program, held June 4–July 28, children ages 6–12 can spend half of every weekday at a free summer camp that includes activities aimed at improving reading, writing, technology and social development skills.

Once a week, the 120 campers take a field trip to places like the Denver Art Museum, Museum of Nature and Science, public library, Denver Zoo, local bike trails and an overnight camping trip in the mountains. The last field trip is the one kids are already talking about — the trip to Elitch Gardens Theme Park.

Bridge Project Executive Director Mary Krane says the project, part of DU’s Graduate School of Social Work, is different from most educational programs for at-risk youth.

“We look at one child at a time, and we’re based in the neighborhoods where kids live,” Krane says.

Those neighborhoods include South Lincoln, Columbine and Westwood, where the Bridge Project sites are nestled in the midst of Denver’s public housing. Throughout the school year, children from 3 to college age attend after-school programs at Bridge.

Education Specialist Elyse Adlen has worked with youth year-round for the last six years. She says the kids are more relaxed in the summer.

“Once they come they’re get really engaged and have a good time,” Adlen says. “They’re so excited to see everything.”

Adlen teaches the literary classes at Bridge’s Columbine Center with the goal of helping kids enjoy reading while increasing their literacy level. After reading a book about a community coming together to make soup, Bridge students made soup. Adlen says activities related to the reading help to reinforce comprehension.

Marcella Corral, 12, has been a Bridge Project participant since she was 3.

“I look forward to coming here every day,” Corral says, noting that two of her best friends also go to Bridge. 

Corral hopes to become one of Bridge’s technology team members. At 14, Bridge youth can attend computer training and then return to teach others.

“I would love working with the little kids,” she says.

Mario Santistevan, 18, is already a tech team member. He received his GED on June 27 and plans to attend Emily Griffith Opportunity School this fall through a Bridge Scholarship.

Santistevan says he wants to be a fitness trainer. His love for exercise and improving body image are equaled by his love for computers and technology. He teaches computer skills and leads younger users in reading and writing activities using computer programs.

One project involves teaching students how to journal using the computer. Each day, youth are supplied with a new topic to write about. By the end, every student will have a complete journal.

Santistevan was in the student chair for years, first coming to Bridge at 10. But coming back as a tech team member and tutor is different, he says. Now, he’s expected to have answers.

“It feels good and weird at the same time,” he says.

The summer program measures success in part by reading levels. In 2006, 63 percent of participants increased their reading by half a level or more. Funding for the program came entirely from donations, including a contribution from the Janus Foundation.

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