Creative Summer Camps

It’s one thing to learn carving at summer camp. But it’s a lot more fun if you know you’re carving a magic wand that you’re going to use to cast spells. That’s how Milo Fielding Bailey, 14, describes what she likes about the Trackers Earth’s camp, which is organized around a story that kids help create and act out. “I enjoy fantasy and role-playing games because I love fantasy settings,” she says. “One thing I like about live action is you are part of the story. You’re holding up a foam sword and yelling as you charge into battle.”
 In all the cases, these camps teach skills that kids apply to create their own stories. For Trackers, the storytelling involves fantasy role playing. For Alexa Café camp, girls can create their own video games or other tech project. In Secret Agent Squad, students go on missions to stop bad guys from doing crimes. And in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Summer Theatre Intensive, teens work with a professional playwright to write their own play.
Trackers Bay
Trackers is one of several Bay Area camps that use storytelling to make learning more fun. “We have found evidence to support that when you can tie the learning to a narrative, it makes an impression that lasts,” says Jess Liotta, chief executive officer of Trackers camps in the Bay Area and Portland. 
The goal of the Trackers camps is to revive traditional outdoor skills in a memorable way. The program, which operates in Marin County and the East Bay and serves kids age 4 through high school, has created a general chronology of fantasy stories that kids flesh out in the summer camps. The kids may have to solve problems prevalent in a post-apocalyptic world – like how to purify water or create a shelter. “They walk away knowing they can handle anything,” says Liotta. “They can handle a zombie apocalypse.”
STEM & Coding 
Alexa Café, which offers several locations in San Francisco, the East Bay and Silicon Valley, is an all-girls summer program for ages 10-15 that teaches coding, web design and more. The girls have to complete a project at the end of the camp.
Ana Sofia Guedez, 12, designed a video game for a phone in which the player tries to get a turtle to eat jellyfish and avoid deadly plastic bags. She was able to immediately apply what she learned from the camp’s lessons on coding. “It was a great experience,” she says. “We didn’t just mindlessly practice something over and over. We were told to go on our own, take what we could from the lessons and create our own game.”
Karen Thurm Safran, vice president of strategic partnerships at iD Tech, which runs Alexa Café, says project-based learning is extremely effective. “The student immerses in it and they’re learning by doing,” she says. “Because the kids are making movies or games, it’s more exciting. They can create their own story.”
This type of learning could pay off with a good profession down the road. According to Safran, there are projected to be 1.4 million jobs available in science, technology, engineering and math by 2020. Right now only 400,000 students are trained in those fields. “If you have a degree in coding or STEM fields, you are not only able to do something fun with a purpose, you will also have a job.”
Secret Agent
For kids aspiring to be James Bond someday, Secret Agent Squad Camp in San Francisco is the place to be. The camp trains kids ages 7-14 to be junior agents who know how to trail suspects, retrieve stolen property and secretly record conversations among other skills. “It’s as interactive and realistic as I can get,” says Matt Martin, also known as Agent 74, who runs the program. “I just wanted to make the camp I wish I could have gone to when I was a kid.”
Martin knows how to create interesting scenarios from his former career as a TV writer, with credits including Men Behaving Badly and Chicago Sons. “I get to teach kids what they want to do,” he says. “Their attention span is super-riveted. There’s a lot of teaching and very little management.”
Lisa DeVito, a parent of a junior agent, backs that up. She says her 9-year-old son usually hates camp and wants to quit after the second day. But in this case, he loved it because of the sense that he was doing an important job. “The kids take their missions very seriously,” she says. “It’s interesting how (the camp) gets kids to be their best.”
On Stage
Middle school and high school students get to jump into the world of theater by helping create their own play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Summer Theatre Intensive. The company hires a professional writer to present a fairy tale, myth, poem or short story that can be adapted into a play. Then the students throw out their ideas and the playwright gets it down on paper.
Last summer, the kids created a play from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th Century narrative poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Sierra Berrick, 17, says the students decided which characters of the 200 in the poem they would play, what secrets they wanted to hide until the end of the play and what secrets not to share. “It is a really inspiring process,” she says. She loved having the chance to give her feedback in the creative process. “From an actress’ point of view, if I’m able to give input into creation of characters and what happens in a story, it makes an easier job for me,” she says.
Mary Beth Cavanaugh, associate director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s school, says the kids learn a lot about collaboration with others of varying socio-economic backgrounds. They also are more engaged in the process than if they were just staging a play that was already written.
“It gets down to when you create something, you have more of a connection to it,” she says. “You care more about it because you helped create it.”
 Lisa Renner is a calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.
For more information on these camps, visit:
Alexa Café:
Berkeley Repertory Theatre Summer Theatre Intensive:
Secret Agent Squad Camp:
Trackers Earth Bay Area:


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