Smart kids at camp

By LESLIE MORIARTY

Herald Writer

In a cool summer breeze, 7-year-old Laurel Clayton sprawls on her abdomen, Crayons in hand, drawing a beautiful garden of blue, pink and purple flowers.

Like bookends, Amanda Compton and Stephanie Church share a blue cotton blanket as they cover their paper with pictures of hearts and stars and suns.

It could have been any summer afternoon at any day camp. But this was much more.

This was a day last week at Camp Hot Spot, a weeklong summer day camp for kids ages 5 to 12, organized by the Snohomish Drug and Alcohol Committee.

The camp is designed to provide activities for kids in their own neighborhoods throughout the Snohomish School District, and to teach them drug and alcohol abuse prevention skills. This camp was at Totem Falls Elementary School, east of Mill Creek.

"The best part so far is the crafts," said Laurel, who had just completed a picture frame made of popsicle sticks that will hold a picture of her first-grade teacher. "We’ve been making all kinds of things."

On the surface, the camp may look like "just play," assistant director Kristi Lentz said. But the kids are learning.

"It’s a noncompetitive camp," Lentz said. "All the activities are designed to bring out the best in each individual child.

"And in between playing on the playground, making crafts, and just having fun, the kids are taught about fire safety, library skills and the importance of how to say no to peer pressure to smoke or use drugs."

In past years, refusal skills were taught by high school students hired as counselors.

This year, organizers tried something new, said Kathi Zehner, executive director of the committee.

"We call it peer advocating communication and empowerment," she said. "We’re using the middle school campers as co-counselors and allowing them to teach the elementary school kids about team building and refusal skills."

For example, she said, the high school counselors and camp leaders work with the middle school students, teaching them refusal skills. Then the middle school students write and perform skits that show elementary students how to refuse drugs.

"We have found that the closer in age the teachers are, the more the younger students will absorb and accept the message," Lentz said.

The skills are reinforced with songs, slogans and role-playing.

But just like any other thing associated with school, there are tests. These tests, however, are low-key, she said.

Students are taken aside sometime during the last day of camp and a counselor asks them what they’ve learned. In about 95 percent of the cases, the campers can repeat the steps of refusing an offer to smoke or take drugs, camp leaders said.

And they can use other skills learned, "Like getting along with their little brothers or sisters at home," said Chris Harter, director of the AmeriCorps Team assigned to work with the Snohomish School District. AmeriCorps volunteers help at the camp.

Counselors also teach teamwork and how to compromise.

Now in its 10th year, Camp Hot Spot has grown each season. But camp leaders know there’s something else it’s known for besides the emphasis on drug refusal skills.

"Each week, on the last day of camp, local firefighters come out to speak about fire safety," Zehner said. "And then they hook up their hose to the fire hydrant and spray the kids who want to get wet and cool off."

As the fire truck drove up to Totem Falls Elementary Thursday, a chant broke out among campers.

"Get soaked, get soaked," they screamed.

And they got their wish.

You can call Herald Writer Leslie Moriarty at 425-339-3436 or send e-mail to

moriarty@heraldnet.com.

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