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Conval

Camp would help middle schoolers

$40,000 in budget would cover half cost

In an effort to provide additional academic and social support to students who could use help, Peterborough Rotary Club members want to send about 75 ConVal middle schoolers to a 13-day overnight residential summer program, which would be run by Nature’s Classroom at Sargent Center in Hancock.

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, Rotary Club member Andy Peterson told the board the program would offer an educational summer-camp experience for students who might not have other summer opportunities due to their family financial situation. It would be modeled on the Camp Quest program that has been a successful collaboration between the Jaffrey-Rindge Rotary Club, the Jaffrey-Rindge School District and Franklin Pierce University. Students would have chances to swim, kayak and use the Sargent Center ropes course and climbing tower while also participating in scientific field investigations that would reinforce their academic skills and making connections with their peers and Rotary volunteers who would assist the Nature’s Classroom staff.

“This is a program that could be a great help at a critical stage of many students’ lives,” Peterson told the Board. “It’s a chance to take those who might be stuck in neutral or worse and inspire a passion for learning.”

The program would be free, with the costs picked up by the School District and through fundraising by the Rotary Club. Peterson said the club would ask the School Board to include $40,000 in the 2014-2015 budget, which would cover about half the cost. The Rotary Club would commit to raising the additional money required.

Kobe Biederman, the camp and conference director for Nature’s Classroom, said the program would most likely include a morning block that is geared toward academics, with outdoor activities in the afternoon.

“We focus a lot on team building,” Biederman told the board. “The goal is to improve academics and to bring kids out of their shell.”

The ConVal administration would work with Nature’s Classroom to design the curriculum for the camp.

“The academic program would be driven by what the ConVal district wants,” Biederman said on Wednesday. “We can do scientific investigations in an outdoor setting. For example, we have data loggers that measure light and temperature. Kids can design an investigation and use our tools to track their data and carry it out.”

At the board meeting, Rotary member Pete Cross said he had spent time last year visiting the Camp Quest program that the Jaffrey-Rindge district runs at Franklin Pierce University.

“It’s just amazing to see the light in their eyes,” Cross said about the students he had spoken to.

Peterson said the camp would serve students who might otherwise spend the two weeks at home watching TV or playing video games.

“It is intended for those who would get the greatest value,” Peterson said. “They would otherwise be unable to afford a sleepaway camp.”

ConVal Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said students attending the program would be chosen through consultation with middle school guidance counselors and principals.

“We definitely have the kids to fill this program,” he told the board.

Minnihan said camp opportunities would be offered to all middle school students in the district. Because the camp would be a residential program, with students staying at Nature’s Classroom for the entire two weeks, transportation costs should be minimal.

Board member Linda Quintanilha asked if Nature’s Classroom could accommodate students with physical disabilities in the program. Biederman said the largest cabin and the main buildings are handicapped accessible and the staff has experience modifying outdoor activities to suit the physical abilities of students.

Peterson asked the board to agree to include funding for the district’s share of the cost in the next school budget.

“[The Rotary] needs a commitment in order to move forward with our fundraising,” Peterson said.

Board members promised to review his material and give him an answer at their next meeting.

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