Video, photos & story -- First year for summer enrichment camp in Smyrna School District includes classes like " “Reading Detectives,” “Number Ninjas,” “Math Wizards” and “Art Alive.”

In the past “summer school” usually meant being required to toil away in remedial classes while your friends enjoyed biking, swimming and playing video games.

But in the first year of the Smyrna School District’s summer enrichment camps, more than 200 students attended because they actually wanted to, or at least because their parents wanted them to, but not because they had to. That’s because the sessions featured educational games, music, dancing and yes, even something similar to video games that students created themselves in coding class.

“We designed the camps to be an option for parents that wanted positive, worthwhile activities available for their children over the summer,” said Ryan K. Buchanan, Smyrna School District supervisor of instruction.

The fun lessons covered a wide range of topics and purposes.

“We had academic camps designed to help students reinforce their learning to stay on course for their classes next year. Likewise, we offered many general interest camps that were designed to be entertaining and enjoyable for students,” he said. “We also offered targeted camps to challenge our most talented and gifted students.”

However, the goal of all of the camps was for the lessons to be fun and engaging, with a “takeaway” concept each day that that students could share with their parents.

“As a district, we believe that we are servants to the community and we want to provide opportunities for academic enrichment as well as enjoyment to the students in our district,” Buchanan said.

The sessions, for students who had completed kindergarten through sixth grade, were held Monday to Thursday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. at Clayton Intermediate School for three weeks.

A total of 220 children attended during the three weekly sessions, averaging just over 75 students per week.

Subjects included “Reading Detectives,” “Number Ninjas,” “Inquisitive Scientists” and “Art Alive.”

In “Math Wizards” class, students worked on math and geometry skills, discussing concepts like shapes and parallel lines while making wizard hats and wands.

“You get to learn about 3D shapes which is really cool,” said Tabiah Croom.

Croom said one of the differences she liked about the enrichment camp compared to a typical school classroom is the variety of ages of the students.

“Some stuff is for younger kids and the older kids can help out,” she said. “You already know it but you get to talk more about it and explain it to the younger kids.”

Teacher Amber Cochran said the opportunity for the older students to teach is a valuable lesson.

“When you have to explain the concept or skill to someone else, it helps you master the concept,” she said. “It also helps their self-esteem, knowing they helped someone else.”

Cochran said the students really enjoyed all the hands-on activities, like creating paper ships for a game which focused on adding by 10s. Then players moved around the board, trying to capture a pirate ship by coming up with the correct answers.

In “Coding & Robotics,” one of the lessons was working on the “Scratch” coding program to animate their own stories on a computer.

“It’s cool because I made my own story and I could make the characters do all the things that I wanted,” said student Marrin Curran.

In the “World Explorers” class, students “traveled” around the world to study to four unique countries: France, Kenya, China and Peru.

“They learned the language, food, stories and culture of each country,” said Buchanan.

In music, students performed a show using sign language and dancing on the final day of camp. They also learned to play songs on the glockenspiel and xylophone.

Music teacher Kristen Hughes said she and the students had a great time.

“The purpose is to have fun while learning through music,” she said.

As part of the Spanish immersion class, students learned the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Spanish to perform at the end of the week.

“Our art students created portfolios of their works, and the older students made many unique 3D sculptures and ceramic bowls,” said Buchanan. “Our two science camps created and made many cool things including catapults, rocket cars, ice cream, and slime.”

He said the feedback from the students and parents has been overwhelmingly positive.

“As a district, we are encouraged to see so many of our students involved and active during the summer, and it is wonderful that our students and parents feel connected to the schools,” he said. “While there may be significant academic benefits to enrichment, the real success can be seen in the smiles and heard in the laughter of our students. It has been an exceptional first year.”