Fishing, canoeing, seining the pond, and making discoveries of what is in the water sound like typical summer activities for children in East Texas. Taking “fun” activities and giving them educational value has been the goal of the Diboll Family Education Center for the past 15 years.
Because of a contribution from the Thomas T. Keeler Grant program, 35 children from third- through sixth-grade and 10 staff members participated in the Enviro-Math Summer Camp at Pineywoods Conservation Center near Broaddus July 15-18. Attendees learned water safety, the importance of water, what kinds of organisms live in the water, and teamwork.
Education Center Director Charlotte Morris explained that the grant was needed to fill the void left when they lost Temple-Inland sponsorship of the camp. “They sponsored us for 15 years,” she said. “For many of the participants, this week is the only vacation they will have. Combining fun with education is something we did not want to lose.”
Keeler grants are given to organizations that seek to enhance the educational, social, and physical qualities of life within the community in the areas of education, health, community and social services, cultural arts, and the humanities. They are made in honor of Thomas T. Keeler and his wife Cora and in memory of his grandfather T.L.L. Temple and his mother Marquerite.
Morris described several ways that the $20,000 total would be used.
“Half of it will be used for new computers in our lab,” she said. “We needed to update in order to continue helping students who struggle with the traditional classroom setting or who need to just complete a credit or two to avoid dropping out of school.”
Some of the funds will be used to purchase adult education materials. For example, there will be a new GED test in 2014, and new legislation is making it necessary to obtain new citizenship study materials. Other parts of the grant are being used on summer activities for kids such as the “Boredom Busters” held in June.
About $5,000 of the money was earmarked specifically for the Enviro-Math Camp. Student participants were identified through the Family Education program, the Diboll Housing Authority, and the school.
“I enjoy putting on the camp each year,” Morris said. “It’s a 24-hour-a-day job for four days and three nights, but it’s wonderful to see how the kids respond and how they grow during the week. Some of these students attend for several years until they reach the age limit.”
In addition to the staff, outside speakers and instructors come to the camp to work with the attendees. This summer Jason Burrous and Megan Baldree started the first day by dividing the campers into small groups to practice teamwork activities with “low” elements of the ropes challenge course. On the last day, students were given the opportunity to do the “high” elements such as the power pole and the zip line. They gained experience in overcoming fear and in supporting one another.
Since the focus this year was on water, a game warden presented lessons on water safety before campers were allowed to use canoes. Ray Lenderman from the Texas Parks and Wildlife taught how to cast and fish safely.
Donna Work with the Texas Forest Service helped the campers seine the pond and identify the various life forms they caught. They also learned what kinds of organisms lived on the bottom of the pond, on the surface, in between the top and bottom, and around the perimeter. Frank Shockley from the Stephen F. Austin University Forestry Department taught about the “life” of a drop of water, and students drew a mural to illustrate the lesson.
“This is a joint project with the Housing Authority,” Morris said. “Members of their staff participate, too. It’s gratifying to me to see their involvement and realize that we are educating kids and providing fun activities as well as developing mentors for them.”
The camp not only helps educate the students, but it also helps build friendships and create fond memories forever.