Children with green backpacks walked in a single-file line around Ohio University’s campus on Friday heading to their next activity.
Around 230 youngsters are partaking in this year’s Kids on Campus summer camp, which kicked off last week.
For the first time in its 18-year history, the camp now includes children from beyond Athens County.
Kids on Campus is a rural community-university partnership that targets underserved, at-risk children.
In addition to the free four-week summer camp, the organization also provides programs in area schools during the academic year.
On Friday, half of the camp took a field trip to Splashdown in Jackson.
The other half stayed on campus to watch a movie at Athena Cinema and breakout into their electives.
In the afternoon, the children chose between activities like frisbee golf, yoga or building domino trains.
In the sponge painting class, Lilli Williams, 5, painted a rainbow and stamped a black starfish underneath using one of the sponges.
Her favorite part of the camp has been the swimming, she said.
Children swim or are given lessons at least two days each week, said Timarie Francis, the program manager.
Elijah Byers, 8, who was designing a picture for his mother, said his favorite part has been the food because he’s “always hungry,” he said with a laugh.
Children are fed breakfast and lunch everyday.
Seventy-five percent of the children either have an academic need or qualify for free or reduced lunch, said Crystal Smith, the program coordinator.
Transportation can be a barrier for many children, and so the majority are bused to and from campus.
“Many of these kids don’t go to other camps or have family vacations,” Smith said.
“Most of our kids had never been on an escalator before.”
Children in the first through the 12th grade are sent from all of the county schools (except Nelsonville-York), and for the first time the organization expanded its reach beyond the county to partner with Southern Perry Local Schools.
For the past two years, the camp has been back on the university campus and has grown from last year’s 180 enrolled students.
Funding cuts in years past limited the program to school-based summer camps.
This year, funding was still tight due to cuts in grants, but local community and university support made the camp a reality, Francis added.
She also partnered with area nonprofits like the Athens County Child Advocacy Center and Rural Action to provide extra classes.
“We use all the resources we can,” she said.
And the camp is more than just having a good time.
Every day children spend at least 45-minutes with a certified teacher to improve their reading skills.
“One of our goals is to prevent summer slide,” Francis said.
“So we decided to focus on reading."
"We’re also giving out books every week. We want them to realize reading can be enjoyable, something that they choose to do.”
For more information about Kids on Campus, visit www.ohio.edu/kids.