School’s out for summer and suddenly the schedules of kids across Gulf County have freed up.
For parents and guardians who are shackled to the 9-to-5 year round, the first question in mind is how to keep the little ones busy. Luckily, Port St. Joe offers three great summer programs to keep kids occupied and the learning process going.
The 21st Century Summer Enrichment Program, run by Elementary Principal Designee, Jo Clements, took place at the Port St. Joe Elementary School and ran Monday through Thursday for the month of June.
The program welcomed students in grades kindergarten through sixth with over 80 enrolled. The program’s curriculum covered science, reading, art, music and math. 21st Century even provided an hour of music and art each day to explore creative avenues for children.
Now in its twelfth year of operation, the Port St. Joe STAC house, operated by Jewell Hopper, runs programs for elementary students weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon ET and for middle school students from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
The STAC house has plenty to keep kids occupied during daytime hours with pool tables, foosball and plenty of video games, board games and coloring books. Kids are encouraged to get physical with activities like foursquare, basketball or a romp around the on-site playground.
The money that kids spend at the snack bar goes toward purchasing more entertainment for those long summer days.
Hopper, who works in the gym at the elementary school, enjoys being able to interface with the younger kids who will be making the transition from kindergarten to first grade.
“It’s nice for them to see a friendly face in the school,” she said.
In addition to five employees, seniors from Gulf County High Schools can apply for paid positions over the summer months.
Recent Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School grad Carley Clements spent her second summer working at the STAC house. She also volunteered at the 21st Century Summer Enrichment Program.
“Being with kids runs in my blood,” said Clements, referencing her mother, Jo. “It’s a great mix of people, and though everyone comes from a different background, you learn the importance of treating everyone the same.”
At its peak, the STAC house welcomed 52 children for the summer. Parents can call the STAC house to register their youngsters.
Over at the Washington Recreation Center coordinators Johanna White and Sandy Quinn celebrated the third year of their summer program. This year, they played host to 70 kids, ages 5-17, with the mission of education and providing one hot meal each day.
Funded by the Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation and the Gulf County Workforce Board, kids in the program have access to science labs where they learn about marine life, a 15-station computer lab that helps reinforce math skills and allows students to stay updated on current events in the community. Kids also have “quiet time” for an hour and a half each day where they are encouraged to read.
Kids also attend a weekly art class with Leslie Wentzell of the Artery, and a basketball camp run by Pete Smith, a professional player in the European League.
“It’s an awesome summer program,” said White, now in her second year as a coordinator. “The kids have fun, but they’re also learning.”
Quinn, a physical education teacher at Port St. Joe Elementary, has been involved from the start and has enjoyed fostering an educational environment that ensures kids will be ready for school when it resumes in the fall.
“It gives the kids something to look forward to,” he said.
In addition to her staff counselors, White has 20 interns who help with the camp and throughout the community. Local students can apply and go through an interview process in hopes of landing a paid position. These students also receive on-the-job training including telephone etiquette, finances, and interviewing skills.
Students from the University of Auburn are also on-hand and volunteer their time to helping the kids learn.
Kids enrolled in the program take field trips once a week, whether it’s to the Bay to investigate sea life, or for a ride down the Apalachicola River. At the end of the summer, kids will be treated to a day of fun at Shipwreck Island Waterpark or a cruise on the Sea Dragon Pirate Ship in Panama City.
“The students build social skills and have a lot of fun,” said White. “These kids grab your heart.”