Trinity Crockett, 7, balled her hands into fists and kicked her right leg as hard as she could.
Her foot hit true on her target — a piece of X-ray film her taekwondo instructor held in extended hands. A loud, almost metallic sound rang out through the small band room at Covington’s Pine View Middle School when young Trinity connected. At the same time, she hollered a convincing “Hi-Ya!” — a shout that drew praise from the instructor.
Crockett had never experienced taekwondo before, but she got a firsthand experience in the martial art when instructors from Just for Kicks showed up at Pine View for an impromptu lesson on June 13.
About 100 children had the same experience that day. They also learned how to play African drums, work on computers, begin an art project and play various sports in the school gym. Before they began the fun, however, all spent half their day working on core school subjects, such as English, math, science and social studies. The older children even began planning for a service-based initiative to help a local nonprofit.
Welcome to the 21st Century Community Learning Center summer camp, where all this and more becomes a reality each summer for hundreds of local students.
The camps are held at each of the four 21st Century Learning Center sites in St. Tammany Parish — Pine View in Covington, Brock Elementary in Slidell, Chahta-Ima Elementary in Lacombe and Creekside Junior High in Pearl River. The Learning Centers are made possible through federal grant funding, which is administered locally by the St. Tammany Parish Public School System.
In the 2013-14 school year, approximately 550 children were part of the local learning centers. The summer camps had more than 400 children registered for a five-week program that began June 11.
Program Director Cathleen Huval said the centers, and thus the camps, are set up at schools with a student body in need of additional academic attention. However, the camps reach out to a fairly broad spectrum of students throughout the St. Tammany system.
“Basically, the (21st Century mission) is to have a safe, caring and enriching environment in nonschool hours,” Huval said. “It’s a place where children can increase their literacy and math skills. It also involves parents in some sort of participation in programs with their children. And we want to have a positive connection between the family, school and the community.”
Huval said what makes the summer camps different from other summer offerings is the education aspect of each day.
“Our morning session is academics,” she said. “Parents are really happy when they hear that part of this is about academics.”
The numbers at Pine View prove it.
Site coordinator Les Heidelberg said approximately 125 children in first through eighth grades are participating this summer. There are approximately a dozen teachers at his site throughout the day, as well as high school-aged student workers and several volunteer eighth-graders who work with the kids.
Another attractive thing for parents is the price — $125 per camper, with activities held every weekday for five weeks, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Heidelberg, who has been involved with the 21st Century summer camps since 2002, said watching the students come back year after year is rewarding.
“Seeing the kids come through is special, especially the kids who volunteer now who began at this camp when they were much younger,” he said. “They keep on coming every year because they enjoy the camp. I think we help (fill) the gap between the time they leave school in May and return to school in August. That time in the morning is educational. It’s hands-on enrichment.”
Danielle Camacho is one volunteer that Heidelberg referenced. The emerging Covington High freshman is assisting as a nonpaid worker this summer, and she said the experience has been “great.”
“I know a lot of the kids here from being in camp with them myself,” she said. “It’s fun, and it gives me something to do over the summer. I’d be doing nothing, really, if I wasn’t here. Not to mention, it will be good experience and help me get a job next year.”
Older campers such as 13-year-old Ryan Legere are part of the “Junior Corps.” The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at the camp have chosen the St. Tammany Humane Society as the nonprofit they’d like to assist. They have organized a car wash to raise money and will visit the shelter in July to deliver the goods they collected and the money they raised.
“It’s a good feeling (to help others),” Ryan said. “If you learn when you’re younger, you can learn to give as an adult.”
Tina Neal, a local teacher, is leading the Junior Corps at Pine View this summer. It’s her second year in the program but her first at Pine View.
“It’s very rewarding,” Neal said. “They’re learning from me, and I’m learning from them. They know this is service learning.”
As for Trinity, she’d like to continue with the camp for years to come. At 7, this is only her second year to attend, but she’s making the most out of it by sharpening her academic skills in the morning and excelling in enrichment programming in the afternoon.
“I get to do a lot of things, like go to the pool and the waterslide,” she said.
And if she wasn’t in the 21st Century Community Learning Center summer camp?
“I’d be bored,” she said emphatically.