Two weeks after summer break began, Head O’ Meadow School classrooms were abuzz again, this time with excitement as Summer Music And Arts (SMART) Camp celebrated its opening day on July 1. This year is the 22nd summer the SMART Camp has offered continuing education programs for children exiting kindergarten through sixth grade. Monday was the first day of two two-week programs, comprising 21 different subjects, focusing on art, music, science, and other subjects.
Instructors wasted no time getting campers immersed in hands-on projects, such as crafting clay pinch pots in the Great Clay Adventure class; synthesizing oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid, in the Icky Sticky Ooey Gooey Chemistry class; and performing dramatic skits in the Theater and Performance Workshop. Each class runs an hour and a half, and is taught by professional artists and teachers.
Newtown resident Don Kopy, a professional potter, is starting his eighth year teaching SMART campers how to work with clay, including how to craft pinch pots, coil pots, slab pots and how to work a potter’s wheel.
“It gives me a chance to spread my skills to a new generation,” Mr Kopy said on opening day. “I enjoy working with the children, and I appreciate their enthusiasm.”
Enthusiasm appropriately described the mood of many of the campers, who participate in three classes per day. Which classes a student gets to participate in is decided in part by the campers, who get to rank their preferred subjects. The ability to choose from a wide range of specified subjects is one of the main attractions of SMART Camp, according to head intern Katie Peters, who has been involved with the summer program for 15 years.
“When I was a kid, I liked that there were so many different classes to choose from,” Katie said. “I got to pick the things I wanted to do.”
For Katie, SMART Camp made art enjoyable in a way her school was unable to do.
“I hated art, but I liked it here. It’s different here, it’s not just painting and drawing; you get to play with clay and build stuff,” she said.
Katie’s journey from student to intern is indicative of the high return rate of campers. Site Supervisor Stephanie Schwartz credited the success of the program to the commitment of the teachers and the campers.
“It’s a very well-structured program, and we have committed teachers, and children who want to be here. There’s a high retention rate; many of our interns came here as students,” Ms Schwartz said.
Sisters Kaia Gioffre and Malia Gioffre have started their fourth year at SMART Camp. During Mosaics class, in which they completed sponge paint mosaics, they shared why they keep coming back.
“It’s so much fun,” Malia said. “I enjoy the activities, and the people, and the interns.”
“I like that you can pick your activities, the people are nice, and you can do what you want,” Kaia said. “You have time to make friends. It’s not just work.”
It is the scientific process, and its messy byproducts, that keeps third-year camper Vivian Meehan coming back.
“I like science, it’s fun,” she said. “You can do experiments and see what happens. I also like playing with the goo.”
Third-year camper Owen Brown also gets enjoyment from mucking about.
“You get to do art things and messy things,” he said. “This is my third year and I love it.”
For return camper Eleanor Glassman, SMART Camp provides an outlet for her creative pursuits.
“I love this place because of all the activities,” she said. “I like theater because acting is my passion.”
In addition to being enjoyable, Ms Schwartz expressed her belief that SMART Camp has additional cognitive benefits for its participants.
“Enrichment for the arts is overall enrichment,” Ms Schwartz said. “It helps develop their brains.”
Ms Schwartz attributes that enrichment to “in-depth exploration” opportunities provided in each class. Classes often dedicate a full 90 minutes on one medium, providing ample hands-on experience.
The lengthy classes not only facilitate intellectual gains, they also provide opportunities to craft tangible artwork, which is ultimately displayed in a showcase of the arts. The showcase takes place on the last day of the two-week program. Parents are invited to watch a dramatic performance put on by Theater and Performance Workshop, and all the artwork from every class is unveiled. According to Ms Schwartz, the sheer volume of creative output is so great, some parents leave with several moving boxes full of artwork.
The prodigious creative output is another reason Ms Schwartz holds the SMART Camp in such high regard, and why she looks forward to its opening day.
“This is my favorite day of the whole year,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful place.”
Those interested in learning more about SMART Camp, or wishing to enroll in the second session, which runs July 15–26, can visit SMART Camp’s website, www.summersmartcampct.org. The website provides a description and schedule of each class, prices and registration information.