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To ensure students would be able to retain and build on lessons learned during the school year, Future Next held CAMP — Children Academic Motivational Program — for a month during the summer.
From July 7 to Aug. 7, students in kindergarten through eighth grade met for a couple of hours Mondays through Thursdays to study math, science and reading.
“It’s reinforcement and learning new skills,” said Nicole Thomas, who founded Future Next in 2010 after seeing a need for academic support and guidance for students — her son was struggling in school — and for programs that would keep children motivated, challenged and engaged.
At first, the nonprofit started small, in Thomas’ living room with her son and a few of his friends.
Soon other parents were asking to sign up their kids and to volunteer.
The group grew to about a dozen children until more joined, and it had to move to a Waldorf middle school to accommodate nearly 70 children and volunteer tutors who were parents and college students.
Last year the organization started its camp program with kindergartners through third-graders coming on Mondays for enrichment activities, while fourth- through eighth-graders sign up for math on Mondays, science on Tuesdays and reading on Wednesdays.
The lessons are geared to each grade’s skill level and are aimed at learning through doing — learning while having a good time.
It is camp, after all.
There is a carnival theme one night, race cars the next.
Organizers try to make it as fun as they can, Thomas said.
Lashan Solomon of La Plata signed up her sons, Noah, 9, and Caleb, 7, for the camp so that the summer holiday didn’t whiz by in a haze of video games.
“They continue to be engaged educationally in addition to what I do at home,” said Solomon, who came across Future Next when she was on the lookout for an enrichment camp. “Education is very important to us.”
She said the volunteers are helpful and keep the kids engaged and excited.
Dominique Cheek, 22, of Waldorf was looking for volunteer opportunities that would allow her to work with children.
She was interning with the National Children’s Museum when she learned about Future Next. This is her second year volunteering with the organization, and she headed up the reading program for seventh- and eighth-graders at camp.
Cheek said she wasn’t the first to pick up a book when she was younger, but has found herself drawn more to them as she’s gotten older and discovered genres she enjoys.
She started camp by asking her charges a few questions.
“What makes you want to read?” she asked. “Why don’t you want to read?”
Her group took on “A Raisin in the Sun” with Cheek challenging the campers to find something in the play to “attach” themselves to.
The students ended up in a debate about the gender roles represented in the story.
“They were split right down the middle — boys versus girls,” said Cheek, adding that it was a little surprising that students who are 11, 12 and 13, were ready to discuss and back up their stance about gender roles in a play that was written in 1959. “They had opinions, and their thoughts were fully in the moment,” she said.
Some campers, like Nova Belcher, 9, couldn’t put their finger on what they liked the best during camp.
“It was fun,” said Nova, a Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School student. “I can’t really say what I liked ’cause I liked [it] all.”
Mystery nights are held Thursdays with a focus on character development thanks to the advice and stories of guests like Larry “Wes” Henson, better known as Baltimore Ravens super fan Captain Dee-Fense; lawyer Michele Harris, who spoke about social and cybersafety, and bullying and Maryland laws; and Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard III, the great-grandson of Fritz Pollard, a football pioneer and hall of famer who was the first black All-American, the first African-American to coach a professional football team and a successful businessman.
“He was a tremendous person,” said Pollard, who was implored by his late father, Fritz Pollard Jr., an Olympian who competed in the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, earning a bronze medal in the 110 meter hurdles, to make sure the family’s story was told and that he would get Fritz Pollard in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He may have been lost to sports history had Pollard not contacted sportswriters and media representatives who vote on who is nominated and selected for the honor, to look into his great-grandfather’s role in professional football.
“Just about anything having to do with [African-Americans in] football, he was the first,” Pollard said. “He wanted the game open to everyone. He was an early proponent of equal rights.”
Fritz Pollard, who should have been inducted in the pioneering class in 1963, his great-grandson said, was inducted in 2005.
Stories like Pollard’s help with character building, Thomas said.
While Fritz Pollard had natural athletic gifts — although only 5 feet 8 inches tall, he was remembered as one of the fastest players some reporters had ever seen — his ambition and tenacity helped him achieve great feats even in the face of adversity.
Aside from academic enrichment, camp encourages students to keep going, Thomas said.
What the future holds
CAMP, which is funded through grants and donations and found volunteer speakers — including science, technology, engineering and math professionals and fitness instructors — by putting out a call on volunteer message boards and networking with groups, wrapped up Aug. 7.
Future Next is working on its fall programs and workshops for kindergartners through eighth-graders and the college-bound program for high-schoolers.
“We’re keeping students engaged in learning during off-peak school hours. We also are able to see progress in our high school participant college acceptance in colleges of their choice,” Thomas said. “We are meeting new people and sharing our love for community there’s nothing better than that.”