Tacked to the walls of Holmes Elementary School’s cafeteria Tuesday morning were posters of different biomes, drawings of animals in their habitats and paintings of the earth done on paper plates. At the lunch tables, students were performing science experiments, crafting, eating breakfast and socializing, all activities encouraged and enabled by Camp Imagine, a program run by Spokane Public Schools.
The free camp for incoming first through fifth graders ran for three weeks at five sites around Spokane: Browne, Franklin, Garfield, Holmes and Willard elementary schools.
Around 600 students participated in total, said Ryan Lancaster, director of media and marketing for Spokane Public Schools. More than 70 staff members were involved in putting on the camps, which conclude Thursday.
Jessica Prigan had two children attend the camp at Holmes. Her son Aiden, a fifth grader, didn’t initially want to attend, she said. But second grader and sister Averie’s experience won him over.
“She was like ‘It’s so fun,’ and so he went and has really enjoyed it,” Prigan said. “I decided to put them into the camps so they had something to do during the summer break that would keep them on a routine, and so they would have a chance to still see their peers, as well as stay on track with their reading and writing.”
Sierra Campbell, a school counselor, was the camp lead at Holmes. She said the campers spend time in four sections each day, and each kid enjoyed a separate part of the camp.
“We have art, STEM, P.E or recess, and then we have creative writing,” Campbell said. “So it’s different for every kid. Some kids really connect well with the art or the STEM, and other kids just love to be out and physical and running around and playing tag and the other games they have out there.”
Prigan said Aiden and Averie enjoyed the science-based projects.
“Yesterday, they made catapults out of wooden popsicle sticks and spoons,” Prigan said.
Ajeanne Dryden is employed as an aide at Audobon Elementary School. She said her son Josiah, who attends Audobon but went to Holmes for Camp Imagine, also loved the STEM activities.
“He’s a big science fan,” Dryden said.
“We did this thing where we put baking soda in something and it made a chemical reaction,” Josiah added.
Educational exercises aren’t the primary focus of the summer program. Camp attendees receive social support, as well as the chance to make new friends. Josiah has appreciated that, Dryden said.
“It’s good for kids to be able to go out there and experience different things around different people,” Dryden said. “The fact that it’s not just his school, so it’s not like he’s seeing the same people all the time, it’s different people in the community.”
Prigan, the parent of Aiden and Averie, said her children also liked the staff running the camps.
“Both of my kids said that all of the teachers and instructors are really awesome and give them a lot of confidence with what they’re doing and working on,” Prigan said.
There were teachers, paraeducators, classified staff and student workers at Camp Imagine.
Another feature at Holmes Elementary Tuesday morning was Eddie, the therapy dog. He was brought in by a Multi-Tiered System of Support specialists, and kids have really enjoyed that, Campbell said.
“If there’s any behaviors and things like that, we often will have them go see Eddie and take a break,” Campbell said.
The staff has a lot of room to be creative, Campbell said. They were able to do dress-up days and other fun additions.
“This is earth week, so most of our activities are around that theme,” Campbell said. “We’ve added little things to it. We do a different climate for each day of this week. Kids will come in and learn about the different animals in each of these different environments.”
At the beginning of every day before children split off into smaller groups, the Camp Imagine squad at Holmes does a morning huddle.
“We do some stretching and a mindfulness activity,” Campbell said. “We’re kind of teaching them ways to regulate their emotions.”
Camp Imagine has received a lot of positive feedback from parents and students.
“We’ve gotten a lot of texts and parent comments about how their kids were only signed up for one week and then they begged to come for the next two,” Campbell said.
There has been some evolution in Camp Imagine since Campbell first started helping with the program two years ago.
“It’s a little more structured and organized than it was when we first started, but it’s amazing, and we have a lot of really excited kids in here,” Campbell said.
One piece that has been incorporated with the camps are the free meals that Spokane Public Schools provides to students over the summer. At Camp Imagine, students can receive a free breakfast and lunch as part of the program. Spokane Public Schools has 38 total sites for these meals, and the Camp Imagine schools comprise five of those.
“It’s really cool how they joined that up with Camp Imagine to give kids a free meal,” media director Lancaster said.
The five sites for Camp Imagine were chosen because they are spread out over the city, Lancaster said. Spokane Public Schools also provided around 15 bus routes to camp sites, minimizing travel for families.
Camp Imagine is made possible through grants from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund established during the COVID pandemic.
The camp focuses on consistency to help the students.
“It’s been really good for them to continue to have that structure throughout the day and the consistency of having the meals,” Campbell said. “We have breakfast and then we do a snack and then we do a lunch. I think a lot of kids really thrive when they have that set structure.”
Students who missed the program this year will have another opportunity to attend.
“We plan on offering this next summer as well, again at no cost to families,” Lancaster said. “It may look a little different and take place at different sites.”