U summer camps offer kids and students fun in the sun

The programs offer youth an opportunity to experience campus and learn new things.

Mike Rose

For 25 years, the University has provided summertime fun for children and work experience for University students through its summer youth programs held at the St. Paul Gymnasium.

The University offers general recreation and educational programs and sport schools to about 3,000 children each summer, said associate program director Todd Tratz. He estimated about 280 youths go to camp each week, and individual groups each have about 13 campers.

on the web

For more information about University of Minnesota youth summer camps and programs, go to: www.recsports.umn.edu youth or contact Todd Tratz at 612-625-2242

The general recreation programs, called Gopher Adventures, provide children ages 5 to 12 with a full week of activities. Campers arrive around 8 a.m. to participate in activities such as swimming, rock-wall climbing and outdoor playing. Group leaders take campers on various on-campus tours, such as to the St. Paul Raptor Center or the Weisman Art Museum.

Minnesota Sport Schools provide 7- to 15-year-olds with general recreation as well as the opportunity to learn a new sport including rock climbing, SCUBA diving, archery, golf and tennis. Typically, these classes are taught by University students, staff or faculty with expertise in the particular sport.

Tratz said the sport schools provide children with individually oriented learning and the chance for beginners to try a new sport.

“We work kids mentally and intellectually, as well as physically,” he said.

Kids’ University programs, while still providing general recreation for children ages 6 to 15, also offers an opportunity to experience campus while learning something new.

Ecology courses allow kids to track down insects and explore the outdoors.

Science courses teach campers about animals and different ways to use electricity.

“It’s learning through the back door,” Tratz said. “Kids get fun, hands-on activities.”

Maureen Howe, a University alumna, said she’s brought her two children to the camp for the past two summers.

“It’s really nice,” she said. “They get an experience of campus.”

Howe added that she was glad her children received plenty of physical activity.

“They’re not sitting in front of the TV every day,” she said.

In addition to providing various opportunities to children, the summer youth programs give University students jobs.

Tratz said most University students who apply to be group leaders or instructors are interested in finding a career relating to children. Applicants are required to have prior experience, such as working as a YMCA buddy or student teaching.

When hired, students go through background checks, receive CPR and first-aid training and attend 16 hours of orientation.

Recent University graduate Brandon Jackson is an instructor for the tennis programs. Jackson has played since he was young and was a fan of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

“Helping people find the love of tennis motivates me,” he said. “I actually look forward to (my job) during the school year.”

Another recent University graduate, Emily Hurm, is a group leader.

Hurm said she has as much fun with all the new activities as her campers do.

“I love them,” she said. “I like to see (the campers) grow and learn.”

In addition to group leaders and instructors, a volunteer office staff also gets to gain experience in a field they care about.

Ross Thompson, who received a University graduate degree in early childhood education, works in the office. He said he’s always been drawn to working with youth.

“They have an outlook on life we tend to forget about as adults,” he said. “(They have) energy and honesty.”

The youth programs currently operate on a $500,000 annual budget, which comes directly from program registration fees and not from student service fees, Tratz said.

He added that about three-fourths of the funding goes toward operating costs, and the majority of those costs go to hiring staff. Camps cost between $185 per week for Gopher Adventures and $265 for the SCUBA camps.

The camps have evolved since they started 25 years ago. Back then, the University offered only golf and tennis camps for three weeks out of the summer. High demand led to an extension of the program to run all summer, Tratz said.

In the summer of 1993, now-Associate Recreational Sports Director Tony Brown visited several western universities, such as University of California-Los Angeles, to see how other programs operated.

What Brown saw were programs that were “a step ahead” of the University’s.

The program expanded in 1994 when Brown implemented new programs.

New camps have been added since, with plans for more in the future.