Record number of campers attend JSU summer camp

If you make it fun, they will come. And come they did, in record numbers to this year’s summer day camp program at the Walter Payton Recreation and Wellness Center at Jackson State University.

Rachel Cowan, director of the center, said a record 125 children between ages 5 and 16 enrolled in this year’s camp, which was held May 29-June 29. Last year, about 80 children attended the camp, which was started in 2006 with an enrollment of about 50.

The reason for the camp’s growing popularity is simple, Cowan says. She, the Payton staff and JSU students who conduct the camp work hard to offer a wide range of activities that focus on both academics and fitness that are not only different from the previous year’s camp, but fun for the kids.

“We try really hard for it to not be boring. We try to make it interesting and make sure the kids learn, but to make it fun. We’re always looking for new and exciting adventures for the next camp,” Cowan says. “We’re already thinking of ways to make it better. We don’t want it to be predictable. We want each year to be a new experience.”

Especially exciting for Cowan this year was the reaction from both kids and parents over the camp’s program that focused on health and fitness.

While kids were offered popular sports activities, from basketball to swimming, they also were taught the importance of healthy eating.

“They were taught about nutrition, portion sizes, what foods can do for you in a positive way and how fast-food and snacks can affect their lives in a negative way,” Cowan said.

On the academic side, the Payton Center partnered with the Mississippi Learning Institute, which provided about 300 books, along with tutors and counselors, for a reading program.

Cowan said the “book club” followed the Jackson Public Schools’ summer reading program curriculum.

However, the biggest hit for this year’s campers was a field trip to the Jackson Department Training Academy, Cowan said. Police officers not only treated kids to a motorcyle show but a demonstration game of hide and seek with a K-9 officer.

“That was a huge hit!’ Cowan exclaimed.

At camp’s end, campers and parents were asked for an evaluation.

“The only negative, if you could call it that, was that some parents thought the camp should be held all summer long,” Cowan said.  “While that would be nice, it would be financially impractical.”

She promised, however, that next year’s five-week camp will offer some new and exciting adventures – adventures she’s already planning.