Some grade school students in the Perry County School District kicked their summer off by becoming certified scuba divers thanks in part to GEAR UP Kentucky, a six-year grant program meant to enrich students’ lives academically to ensure college and career readiness.
Jeff Campbell, GEAR UP academic specialist with the Perry County School District, explained that GEAR UP partnered with the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky and the Perry County Board of Education to be able to offer a five-day camp for Perry County students who will be going into the seventh, eight, and ninth grades this coming school year.
“It’s been really nice, we’ve had a lot of kids, and the thing I really like about it is we’ve had kids from all across the spectrum. We’ve had our kids who do really well academically and our kids who sort of struggle academically who we’re trying to get better. It’s a nice mix,” Campbell said.
The camp is geared toward getting kids excited about math and science, so the activities the teachers leading the groups planned for the students were math or science related, however not in the typical classroom style.
“One group went on a fossil dig today up on Route 7, they actually found fossils,” Campbell said. “We let the teachers get creative, whatever you want to do as long as it’s sort of within the guidelines of science and math.”
Campbell said so far the camp has had 90 participants on average each day.
“We’re finishing up on Friday, we’re going on a college visit to the University of Louisville and then stopping by the zoo,” he said on Wednesday.
A trip to the zoo probably won’t be the highlight of the camp experience for many students as most of the activities available during the week are hands-on and something many are doing for the first time, like taking scuba diving lessons with New Horizon Diving at the Pavilion in Hazard or building a robot, circuit board and all, to take home at the end of the day.
“It’s a big operation, it’s something we’ve actually been planning since February,” Campbell said.
With money from the GEAR UP grant, which Campbell said was the second year the district had been involved with it, the camp was able to bus the kids to and from Perry County Central high School each day, which started at 9 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m., feed them breakfast and lunch, and pay for the activities and trips planned for the week.
And GEAR UP grant money hasn’t only been used for camps. This past school year Campbell said the money has paid for numerous college visits for fifth- through eighth-graders to schools including Alice Lloyd, Eastern Kentucky University, and the University of Kentucky.
“The idea behind the grant is to make them more aware of what it takes to get into college and help them start planning for that, even meeting and working with their parents. The GEAR UP grant involves parent partners, and they try to get parents more involved to know about the cost of higher education and things like that,” Campbell said.
Tom Cravens, director of the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky, said camps and programs like what the GEAR UP grant is allowing the Perry County schools to do not only benefits students for college and their career, but can also help them in the short term.
“One of these kids in here, they were concerned that he wasn’t going to do so well at camp. He had gotten into some trouble on the first day and they said he got into the robotics program yesterday and it was just like, he got interested in it and they said he had his halo on all day yesterday,” Cravens said.
Campbell said the camp has went better than anyone could hope for, and hopes the turn out will be the same if not better if another camp is held next summer.
“It’s not bad considering they’re giving up five days of their summer to come and learn more about science and math,” Campbell added.