After a difficult and unprecedented year, you might wonder who would be excited to come back to school in the summer? Well, more than 130 students and 35 staff members of Dyersburg Intermediate School were eager to return for DIS Knowledge Camp! 

I had the privilege of serving as codirector of this camp, and the benefits that came from this time are too numerous to count.

Our staff began planning in March for the summer learning loss camp to be held in June. We focused on two points:

  • It must be educational and help to close the gaps caused by lost learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • It must be enjoyable to hold the students’ interest and keep them coming back  

Our team began by focusing on the gaps in student learning that existed due to missed time in the classroom. The students that would be attending would be rising third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. Our Language Arts teachers looked to units that were not reached during the school year using our current curriculum, Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA). Students spent the time on novel studies, fluency challenges, and other skills to help them succeed in the next school year. Math teachers focused on the skills that all students need to flourish: basic math facts, place value, and fractions. 

Campers were presented with material via nontraditional methods. On any given day, you could find a team solving riddles about a novel and figurative language to unlock a secret box. Or you might hear a camper yelling with excitement after finishing a difficult level of a math game. Most importantly, the activities were hands-on and exciting, yet still educational. 

Each afternoon during an hour of STEAM learning, campers were presented with novel questions: How can you create music from trash? What is the best way to clean up an oil spill?  Can energy travel through people? Investigating situations and details, solving challenges, and creating unique solutions directed campers’ attention to problems in the world around them. 

Campers were rewarded each week with a Fun Friday Field Trip or activity. Activities included experiencing Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee, exploring the Forked Deer River Park Greenway Trail and Splash Pad in downtown Dyersburg, and turning our school into a movie theatre complete with refreshments at the concession stand.

The highlight of camp for me was handing each camper an individualized award in front of a packed gymnasium of their family members, friends, and other supporters. Seeing the smiles on their faces as they came up to receive that piece of paper made the months of planning (and the delay of starting to my oh-so-short summer break) worth every minute of it. 

While our ultimate goal was to close learning gaps caused by the pandemic, we experienced many other benefits. Our third-grade campers had only been in our building once during a brief tour, so Knowledge Camp gave them time to become familiar with our building and ease their minds about coming to a new school. Many of our campers came to us after a year of online learning, and our staff was able to build relationships with these students as they prepared to re-enter a school building. Our fourth- and fifth-graders had opportunities to succeed and build confidence in areas where they may have struggled. 

Now that school has started, in the halls of DIS you often hear students saying, “That was my Knowledge Camp teacher! I can’t wait to go back!” 

As for me, I cannot wait to see how Knowledge Camp 2022 will exceed our expectations!

Brenda Gibson teaches at Dyersburg Intermediate School and is a member of the 2020-21 cohort of the Tennessee Educator Fellowship.

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