By Brianna Stephens
Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) camp programs are continuing to find ways to connect to children in Appalachia beyond their camp experience. While camp staff normally have a physical presence in the school districts in the counties where CAP provides overnight camp, they are working to continue supporting these regional rural schools that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Last week, staff and volunteers at Camp AJ began working with Jackson County Schools to determine any role CAP could provide in offering virtual help to students this school year. Although the new virtual partnership is still in its beginning stages with a few schools, camp staff have been able to meet with up to five students at a time in a separate online classroom to provide them individualized attention with their lessons and assignments.
“With schools beginning in a virtual capacity, staff utilized their creativity and concern for children’s academics to find a way to assist teachers and students this year,” said Liz Phelps, manager of Camp AJ, which serves Jackson, Rockcastle, and McCreary Counties. “Our partnership with schools and teachers in the counties where camp staff serve are very beneficial. When we all work together, we increase the impact for the children in our community.”
So far students have responded well to the new virtual help and are happy to see camp staff in the “classroom” again, Emily Dumont, Camp AJ community educator, said. A bonus to online learning is staff get more instructional time with students since the virtual classroom setting eliminates time spent traveling to each school, added Mike O’Brien, Camp AJ coordinator.
As some students began attending class in person this week in Jackson County, camp staff have continued offering virtual services to help teachers, who are responsible for teaching both the in-person and virtual students at the same time. To ensure students’ needs are being met, camp staff help and interact with the students who are attending class virtually while the teacher monitors students in the classroom.
Caitlin Speigle, Camp Shawnee coordinator, said camp staff there are still working on how they could offer virtual help to the schools in Johnson, Floyd, and Martin Counties, and hope to get started soon. “We plan to provide tutoring assistance, live video calls with classes presenting some of our character education curriculum, and have started recording presentations from our coping strategies curriculum for schools to utilize if live video calls are not an option,” she said.
Outside of the classroom, Speigle noted both camp staffs stay connected with campers and students by hosting bi-weekly live events on their social media platforms. There, staff, campers, and camp volunteer alumni play trivia, Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy together and interact in the comments.
“We have an ongoing relationship with our kids from the first time we have them in class or at camp,” said Patricia Griffith, manager of Camp Shawnee. “This pandemic has isolated them and for some of our kids it’s the worst thing that could have happened. Going to school or coming to camp was their escape from the life they’re living. We let the kids know we care and we’re here to help them with anything they could potentially be going through.”