CVU freshmen get head start

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Dillon Palmer said he didn’t know much about Champlain Valley Union High School before he started CVU Summer Camp. Sitting in a computer lab last Thursday, distorting digital photographs of his new friends and acquaintances, Dillon said now he knows a lot more.

“I can get my way around the school easily,” Dillon said. “I’ve met a lot of new friends. I like the school a lot. And I can’t wait to start.”

Having soon-to-be freshmen like Dillon make a positive connection with high school before the first day of classes makes the transition from middle school easier, said CVU Summer Camp Activity Director Duncan Wardell.

“You need to feel you have a place in the community, that you can contribute, (that you) are recognized,” Wardell said. “Then I think the mind shifts where it says ‘okay, what is for math homework tonight?’”

CVU Summer Camp is offered twice, for two weeks, July through early August so that incoming freshmen can get comfortable before diving into classes. About 27 percent of this year’s incoming class enrolled in one – or both – of the sessions, according to Wardell. Each session boasts about 45 students and counselors who participate in a series of large and small group activities. Last Thursday morning, for example, students began the day with a scavenger hunt that helped them learn where to find certain services and people.

Students also choose three of 12 individual interest areas to pursue. Poetry and creative writing, engineering, hip hop fitness, and garage band are among the interest areas from which students chose this year.

Carpooling and scholarships for the $240 session (or $450 for both) are available, Wardell said.

Incoming freshmen aren’t the only ones learning at Summer Camp. Ten to 12 counselors – about half current CVU students and half CVU graduates – facilitate activities, a skill that Wardell said will serve them well in a range of future jobs.

CVU alumna Naomi Krasnow, also a graduate of Alfred University, is finishing up her third year as a counselor at Summer Camp before returning to school for a teaching certificate in art education. Krasnow, who facilitates the art-related interest area of drawing, painting and sculpting, said Summer Camp was her first time teaching.

“I thought it would be good experience in working with kids and I guess practicing lesson plans for me for my future jobs,” Krasnow said. The experience has given her a greater perspective on how different students learn, she said, but her multi-year commitment to summer camp goes beyond that.

“I also really like the idea of helping incoming freshmen to get a better handle on the school and meet new kids,” Krasnow said. “I wish I had this program … before I got here; I think that would have helped me a lot.”

Working on a charcoal drawing, Kelsey Golder of Williston says she feels a lot better about starting high school as a result of participating in CVU Summer Camp.

“I like that you get to know a few people before you go into the new place and you get to know your way around so you’re not lost the first day” of school, Kelsey said.

Besides making new friends and getting to know the building, Wardell said learning there are good older student mentors is another advantage of camp. For some, Wardell said, camp is “debunking the myth that upperclassmen are around to push you into lockers.”

Dillon concurs, speaking highly of the counselors he’s met.

“They seem very nice, unlike things that I’ve heard,” said Dillon, who most looks forward to history class and learning Greek mythology at CVU. “I’ve heard that the older kids pick on freshmen a lot, but I honestly don’t think that’s true.”