Published on July 25th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff0
District Five summer camp highlights the ‘special’ in special needs students
(Left to right) Jackson Shealy, Charlie Schmidt and Ryan Rhame enjoy a P.E. activity with special education teacher Valerie Bryan during the Exceptional Eaglets Summer Camp.
IRMO – Darlene Montes’ summer has turned out exactly as she expected.
“Last time this year, I was on vacation at the beach wondering ‘where do our special needs students go during summer?’” said Montes, a Chapin Elementary School special education assistant. “I just knew we had to do something to give them a great summer camp experience.”
She joined other special needs educators in Lexington-Richland School District Five to open the Exceptional Eagles Summer Camp to special needs students district-wide. Located at Chapin Elementary School, the two camp sessions June 8-25 and July 6-24 included a schedule similar to a school day, including daily math and reading activities, recess, and special area classes like art and music.
“We also had a lot of fun too. Every Thursday was Water Day with sprinklers and kiddie pools, and we had parents sponsor an ice cream party for the kids,” said Montes. “The idea was to make sure the students had fun, but also to make sure they were prepared when the school year began. Many times it will take weeks to get them back into the routine of the school day, after summer….We feel the camp will make it easier for them to transition back to school, make the first day of school easier for parents and help our teachers get a good start on the school year.”
Fifteen students from Chapin Elementary, Ballentine Elementary and H. E. Corley Elementary participated in each of the two camp sessions. At a cost of $150 per week, the new camp was staffed by special education teachers and staff. A few dozen parents and District Five students also volunteered as assistants at the camp. District Five served more than 1,200 students with special needs during the 2014-15 school year.
“Every year, parents would ask me what can I do with my child this summer,” said Dana Bennett, a special education teacher at Chapin Elementary, who worked at the camp. “All centers can accept special needs students, but they don’t all feel comfortable and they don’t all have the support needed. Well, we love working with these students, and this is what we do all the time. So, it has been a wonderful initiative and something we hope others will consider.”
For parents like Michelle Jowers, finding a camp with staff trained to care for children with special needs has been a challenge. She says the Exceptional Eaglets camp has filled a need for her family.
“There are probably no words to describe it. But it has just been a blessing for my daughter and for my family,” Jowers said during a July 22 ice cream party at the camp. “She is able to go have a great time with her friends, and she’s learning here at school. I also get time to spend with my older girls doing other things that they want to do. So, it’s just been huge for my family.”
Montes added, “It has been better than we ever thought it would be. They are with people who see the ‘special’ in special needs. To see their faces and think about the things they’ve learned and experienced here at camp, I just can’t wait to see how they use that in school…We hope we can expand this next year.”