Children whirl around a bustling game room and gym, seeking bragging rights at a foosball table, fast-stepping to interactive dance games and sprinting against friends in a relay race.
On one side of the space, youngsters jump to their feet with each momentum-changing play of a virtual football game, while on the other, a pair of boys test their skill in games of pool and air hockey.
The scene on the main floor of the Bulloch County Boys and Girls Club complex, brimming with laughing, smiling faces, leaves little doubt that children attending the organization’s summer program are having a good time.
What is not so easily noticed is how much students are learning during this day spent away from school.
According to Executive Director Mike Jones, the organization’s summer program, now in its 11th year, is dedicated to providing a fun, yet constructive, school-like environment.
The annual camp has been designed not only to keep students occupied and happy throughout June and July, but to keep them learning as well, he said.
“We want to provide kids a safe, positive and educational environment to be in during the summer,” Jones said. “We want to provide them with a place that is constructive, continues the learning process and improves their character.”
Leaving the building’s play space, and entering any one of several adjoining classrooms, it is easy to see how officials with the Boys and Girls Club execute their educational plan.
Throughout the day, approximately 350 elementary schoolchildren — and nearly 100 secondary students — rotate to several stations set up to instruct kids in the club’s five-core academic program.
The five cores are: Education and Career Development, Character and Leadership, Health and Life Skills, the Arts, and Sports and Recreation.
In one room, first-grade students prepare for their next art project, drawing a dangerous animal, by first being quizzed on animals deserving of the distinction.
Next door, fifth-graders hold their hands high in the air in hopes of being called upon for a game similar to “Jeopardy!” that tests knowledge of fire safety, safety awareness and conflict resolution.
“Kids take part in a variety of different activities. We have five core program areas, with a lot of different activities taking place under each area,” Jones said. “It is very structured, and through the 10 hours that we are open, kids rotate through all areas.”
In another part of the facility, children pile into the club’s computer lab, where they play games and work with educational software; they also exercise an artistic side by editing video, or spending time recording and editing music in the camp’s very own sound studio.
Across the hall, students take turns solving multiplication and division problems in one room, while playing bingo and answering nutrition-based questions in another.
“We do tutorial programs to keep kids reading during the summer and advance academically. We have career development programs and focus on things like learning how to get along with others, resolving conflicts, anti-bullying and civic engagement,” Jones said. “We teach health and life skills. We teach kids about proper nutrition and how to make good decisions regarding food. We have daily art activities, whether that means arts and crafts, or providing kids musical lessons, and we make sure every kid is engaged in some type of activity on a daily basis.”
And on occasion, good times extend even beyond club doors.
“Periodically, we do field trips. We’ve gone to Splash in the ’Boro, Flying Frogs in Savannah, and taken various educational trips,” Jones said. “We have visited Georgia Southern University many times this summer.”
Mike Backus, the development director of the Bulloch Boys and Girls Club, believes the summer program provides an experience that is invaluable for local children.
“This program is a great service and open to anybody,” he said. “We have measured outcomes that prove this program really works.”
“A large percentage of people who come here and stay with us at least one year — 99 percent — advance to the next grade; 65 percent make the honor roll,” Backus said. “And these kids’ doctors tell us that the children who attend this club are healthier than others who don’t because of the physical activity part of the program. There are a lot of good things going on here.”
The summer camp, which starts when the school calendar ends in May, is an approximately 10-week program for children 5-18 years of age.
Kids attend the Boys and Girls Club program from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every weekday.
The camp is scheduled to wrap up this week, when the Bulloch County school system begins its 2012-13 calendar year.
For information about the Boys and Girls Club, call (912) 489-4334.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.