Every summer in early June, a group of high school students from nearby Loachapoka, Alabama, come to Auburn to spend a week on campus. They stay in campus dorms, eat in campus dining facilities, and engage in a wide variety of academic, cultural, and team-building activities. This year’s camp, according to co-director Christopher Wooten, was a real success.
“The camp is hosted by the Truman Pierce Institute,” he said. “We call it Loachapoka Exploring Auburn Days, or L.E.A.D. Along with my co-director Teresa Smoot, I was able to work with 27 bright, engaging young people in a busy but exciting set of activities.”
The purpose of the camp, according to Wooten, is to expose students from a high-poverty, high-minority school district to the idea of attending college, and helping them see ways to succeed in this new and often very different environment.
“I feel like the camp went very well in this, our sixth consecutive year of hosting it,” he said. “I think the biggest highlight for the students was our day trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It was really great to see them soak in information and sort of see what their grandparents did and endured, so they could have the opportunities that they have today. We definitely saw a few lights coming on.”
Similarly, the group spent an afternoon at Pebble Hill learning about Native American history and culture, and especially the Creek Confederation that shared the Muscogee language. The Upper Creek Territory was of particular interest since they inhabited the area around Auburn and Loachapoka. The students played Creek games, made gorgets, studied Creek fashion and trading patterns, and focused on Creek place names. For example, Loachapoka means “Turtle Killing Place” in the Muscogee language, while Opelika means “Large Swamp.” Some place names are more earthy, such as Sylacauga’s origins of “Buzzard Roost.”
“We also took the students to the ropes course in North Auburn where we focused on team building, learning to trust each other, and how to better communicate,” Wooten said. “And really there was something good every day. The kids had a chance to do movement and sports science with the School of Kinesiology, go out to the Auburn airport, and engage in leadership development. Evenings included swimming, movies, and other activities.”
Wooten himself is a doctoral student who teaches art in Hale County, Alabama, a place made famous by the 1936 James Agee-Walker Evans sharecropping classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Wooten spends his summers at TPI, and is involved with the anti-bullying summit along with the L.E.A.D. Camp.
“It’s fun being here every year, and working with the kids from Loachapoka. I really feel like our time together on campus helps them see that there are opportunities out there for them. Our job is to help them learn to make the most of their opportunities, and I think we do a good job of it.”