By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Red Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church is helping its youth get a jump on the upcoming school year with its first Summer Enrichment Camp.
The week-long camp is a far cry from any vacation Bible school. Children in kindergarten through 12th grade undergo intensive class-like sessions to sharpen their reading and math skills.
“We’re really focusing on tested areas, and for upper-grade students, we are making sure they get a jump-start on their summer reading and senior projects,” said Valerie Gladney, who helped coordinate the program. “Test scores are important, but we want to get the kids excited about learning and prevent dropouts.”
Gladney said the church pulled out all the stops for the camp, from bringing in local teachers to purchasing required reading books through donations by Red Oak’s congregation.
Tupelo High School students Tianna Robinson and Skyelar Ruff said sacrificing a week of their summer would pay off during the school year.
“We’re getting a lot out of it, getting prepared,” Ruff said. “If we weren’t here, we’d probably be sitting at home, or asleep.”
“I’m getting a head start on our summer reading, instead of waiting until the last minute,” she said. “Plus we’re getting used to waking up and paying attention early. Usually it takes a few weeks into the school year before I’m used to that.”
In addition, the morning classes are broken up by speakers who are leaders in the community.
“Monday we brought in narcotic agents from the DHS to speak to the kids about the dangers of drugs and let them ask questions,” she said. “A social worker from the Family Resource Center will speak to them about bullying, and a Tae Kwon Do instructor will talk to them about self-discipline.”
Near the end of the week, younger grades will take a field trip to HealthWorks!, where they will be exposed to possible careers in the health field, while high school students will take a guided tour of the University of Mississippi campus.
The camp is the brainchild of Valerie Gladney’s husband, the Rev. Jeffrey Gladney, pastor of Red Oaks. For parents in some situations, he said, it can be difficult to give children everything they need. At the same time, schools cannot be expected to bear all the responsibility either.
“The church is a great community resource to step in and help fill that gap,” he said. “With all the camp’s guests and volunteers, it’s really an example of grassroots, community-wide unity.”
Jeffrey Gladney said in the coming years he would like to expand the program to two weeks, then three, eventually building up to a month-long camp.