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Camp iAM aims to create moments of self-discovery

August 27, 2017 at 1:00 PM

WESTERLY — Every student wants to experience that moment when a spark turns a hidden interest or skill into a lifelong career. These are the moments when students begin to discover what they might want to do with their lives.

At this week’s Camp iAM, a pilot program put on by the Westerly Public Schools and South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, one of the state’s 10 health equity zones, a small group of middle school students from Bradford learned what those sparks and hidden talents and passions can mean for them. While part of the week involved listening to local people with varying backgrounds and careers, the students also went out into the community on “learning expeditions” to get a firsthand look at what possibilities are available down the road when they graduate from high school.

Brenda Holmes, a teacher at Westerly Middle School, helped to lead and organized the camp, which took place at St. Vincent de Paul Church. She said the curriculum, which was developed by Barrington’s Youth Substance Abuse Task Force, exposes students to different professions and careers paths while nurturing self-discovery and building protective factors in youth at a vulnerable time in their development.

“It’s great for students to see that at any age, they can take what they love and do it for the rest of their life or for a small part of their life, and then do something else that they love,” she said. “Some students go to college and others don’t, and so we want to offer opportunities where they can see the possibilities, no matter what path they take after high school. For example, tomorrow, we’re going to The Elms to interview some of the folks living there to find out what their spark was.”

The camp, which is free to students, is one way that the South County Health Equity Zone is working to extend services to populations that experience health disparities.

Susan Orban, executive director of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, said the camp came about after consultation with Bradford residents and some of the organizations and stakeholders in the area to learn about the social, economic and health issues facing the community. During those meetings, parents talked about their desire for additional programming for middle school students and how transportation problems were keeping some of the kids from participating in programs in town and at school.

“They felt that their kids were missing out on opportunities and were at risk for the typical challenges that all teens face,” she said. “When we learned about the Camp iAM model, we thought it was a perfect match as it helps them to identify those sparks while also promoting protective factors. We’re hoping it’ll take root and we can continue it into the school year and that it might lead to other new services and supports for kids and families in Bradford.”

Mark Sullivan, Westerly Substance Abuse Task Force chairman, volunteered at the camp on Tuesday and said it had been a great success so far.

“Yesterday we had an organic farmer and a nurse visit and the kids really enjoyed asking questions and learning about what those professions entail,” he said. “Part of what will inform the success of this camp is in bringing in interesting people. It’s all the students getting out into the community and also bringing the community to them.”

One of the campers, 10-year-old Catherine Lathrop, said her favorite part of the day camp was asking the visitors questions about how they got into their careers and professions.

“I want to be a marine biologist and I’ve wanted to be one since I was 5,” she said. “I like the ocean and fish and my dad is a fisherman. I just love asking questions to the career people.”

Eli Grimes, another 10-year-old camper, said he liked the farmer who came to visit and thinks he might want to become one after hearing about what the farmer gets to do every day.

“I think I like it and want to be that someday,” he said. “This is fun.”



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