Truman Pierce Institute hosts camps, inspires students

July 9, 2018

Truman Pierce Camp participants

During the first and second weeks of June, the College of Education’s Truman Pierce Institute (TPI) hosted two sets of students for summer camp activities on Auburn’s main campus. One of the camps welcomed students from nearby Loachapoka, Alabama, and was called the Loachapoka Exploring Auburn Days (L.E.A.D.). The other session was the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Camp.

These latter students were 9th-12th graders from across the state who spent a week in Auburn and then returned to their communities to devote at least 40 hours to their 21st CCLC afterschool programs. In the words of TPI Executive Director Lynne Patrick, the students came “from Madison to Mobile. They represented every corner of the state.”

The L.E.A.D. camp, which is sponsored by the Office of K-12 Outreach, offers Loachapoka High School students a week-long residential university experience. Both camps are directed by COE doctoral student Chris Wooten, who is an art teacher in Tuscaloosa.

“A big part of what we do in these camps is expose young people to a university setting,” said Wooten, who is in his eighth year of leading the camps. “We want these students to see what educational opportunities are out there for them and to get to know Auburn as well. To do this we introduce them to many, many activities on campus and to various academic programs, including art and the STEM disciplines, among others.”

Both of the camps had common activities, including team building at the Auburn Challenge Course, movies and swimming, and shopping in downtown Auburn. But there was something new this year for the campers: trips to Montgomery.

“Our 21st CCLC campers had an opportunity to tour the State House and spend time with Rep. John Knight, learning how legislation is written and passed,” Wooten explained. “Our L.E.A.D. campers had a similar experience visiting government and historic sites in Montgomery, such as the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. But what really engaged both camps was the Equal Justice Initiative.”

The EJI, which opened this year under the leadership of attorney and author Bryan Stevenson, gave the campers an opportunity to learn, in ways they never had before, about racial injustice, children in prison, mass incarceration, and the death penalty. For all of them it was eye-opening and sobering. For many of them, it was the best part of their week in Auburn. This was true for Daron Snell, of Union Springs.

“I really learned a lot from our visit to the EJI,” he said. “I was surprised at all the terrible things that had been done to people, and that I had never known any of that. I loved the unique exhibits, like the jars of dirt from the actual locations where people had been lynched. It really stuck with me. It showed me that I don’t ever want to go to jail, and that it’s best to stay away from mean, racist people. But it inspired me, too, and I would love to be able to go to Auburn when I graduate.”

Another student, Chelsea Jones, said that prior to visiting the EJI, she was planning on going into the medical field. But now she is not so sure.

“This is my third time camping at Auburn and it was hands-down the best one I’ve been to,” she said. “Camp has helped me to explore various career pathways. For example, after visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, I am considering majoring in political science and becoming a lawyer. I am sending a big thank you to the Truman Pierce Institute for providing me with this wonderful experience and opportunity.”

Related to learning about social justice, the campers were also able to have hands-on service experiences. One of those was a day of working outdoors, starting at O Grows, the community garden managed by COE faculty member Sean Forbes. After some greenhouse work and loading plants for a farmer’s market sale, the students were off to a local school where they picked blueberries and peaches and prepared them for the farmer’s market. To date, O Grows has donated more than 8,000 pounds of produce to its community and provided a structure for students from the alternative school to learn management, sales, and organizational skills.

“I like what O Grows does to help the community in terms of food, but I enjoyed our visit there because of all the animals,” said Kailyn Vinson, a rising junior from Madison, Alabama. “I spent a lot of time with the local goats. I have loved animals ever since I was a little girl. I do well in science at school, and have taken biology, chemistry, and marine biology. I’d love to go to the Vet School at Auburn someday, and be a vet for farm and exotic animals.”

To learn more about the camps and how you can become involved, contact Dr. Lynne Patrick at the Truman Pierce Institute. To get a feel for the fun and sometimes frenetic nature of the summer camps, enjoy this video from third-year camper Chelsea Jones.