The Drake Middle School gymnasium was busy this summer. While many think that schools “take a break” when school’s not in session, that certainly wasn’t the case at Drake as 21 Auburn special education students, under the leadership of SERC Clinical Faculty member Kelly Schweck, spent the month of June working with adolescent and adult campers at the Therapeutic Summer Camp. Hosted by the City of Auburn and the Exceptional Outreach Organization, the camp is in its eighth year.
“This is something we do every year, and it provides great opportunities for everyone involved,” Schweck said. “We have a great relationship with Dana Stewart, who runs the program for the City of Auburn Parks and Recreation Department.”
This year, there were approximately 60 campers with a variety of disabilities. The camp gives Auburn’s special ed students, both undergraduate and graduate, a chance to get hands-on experience outside of a traditional classroom.
“We primarily utilize fun and movement activities to focus on life skills and social skills,” Schweck said. “Our students have had several different field experiences prior to the camp, but here they get an extra dimension. Typically, classroom teachers have very specific content to cover, but at this camp they are able to make situational decisions based on camper interest and need. That’s a unique benefit to the summer program. They learn from their mistakes and, as a result, end up being more confident in their internships and classroom teaching.”
Schweck also noted that her students benefit from seeing the campers in a non-school setting. It’s a great experience that prepares them for school but also allows the students to get to know the campers as people.
“This gives our special ed students a chance to see more of what they need to do to help their students prepare for life which goes beyond meeting standards in school. That’s an important distinction.”
Jessica Harris worked at the Therapeutic Camp and made many of the same observations as Schweck.
“Serving at Auburn Therapeutic was the most rewarding of all my practicum experiences at Auburn,” she said. “We had to think quickly, step outside of our comfort zone, and learn that lesson plans are not always going to go the way they were intended to go. Therapeutic Camp is a learning experience for not only the campers, but Auburn students as well.”
Mary ‘Reenie’ Laginess, a Collaborative Special Education graduate, also discussed what she called the “unparalleled” opportunities provided by the camp.
“Through this opportunity I was not only given the chance to work the camp as a practicum student but also to come back post-graduate and fill an open role as an evaluation observer to the undergraduate students enrolled in the Special Education program,” she said. “Participating in the Auburn Therapeutic Camp is the most demanding, yet rewarding, practicum placement that an aspiring educator can complete. As practicum students you are tasked with independently creating and implementing lessons, administering these lessons daily, covering a range of subject contents, and facilitating adults with disabilities of varying age and ability levels. An opportunity like this is rarely available in such a diversified capacity. It was at the Auburn Therapeutic Camp where I first developed confidence in myself as an educator and later as a mentor.”
Schweck noted that the camp is also a valuable respite resource for families, and that the camp tuition is remarkably affordable. She said the campers are always excited about the session and talk about it throughout the year. There is a waiting list every year.
“It’s just a great combination of things going on, and we feel fortunate that our students are able to participate,” Schweck concluded. “We appreciate our camp partners, especially Dana Stewart, and we hope to continue this relationship for many years to come.”