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Learning along the creek

Scott N. Miller
Maisie Crow/Vail DailyZach Huie, 13, keeps his balance while crossing a bridge built by his math class as part of a project at the Learning Camp.
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GYPSUM – Heaven on earth is at the top of Spring Creek.As the stream burbles through a small ranch south of the Eagle County airport, kids from all over the world sit at picnic tables near the creek to read, write and work on math problems. The kids, ages seven through 14, are doing their creekside schoolwork at the Learning Camp.Between the shady classroom and activities that include rock climbing, horseback riding and rafting, kids clamor to return once they’ve come.”Summer should be fun, but you should still be able to learn,” eight-year-old Lindsey Appleyard said. “We do that here.”This is Appleyard’s second summer at the Learning Camp. She came a long way for it, too, all the way from London.

Of the campers in the most recent session, Appleyard will have the longest flight home, but kids have come to the Learning Camp from Africa and Asia. But about 10 percent of the campers come from local schools.This year’s youngest camper is Nick Gerardi, 7, who just finished first grade in Sarasota, Fla. Gerardi has taken to horseback riding, and climbed Notch Mountain south of Minturn, where he threw his first snowball. Bouncing on a picnic table bench, he was ready for his next adventure, rock climbing.Learning Campers come a long way for something founder Ann Cathcart invented for her son Tucker: a way for kids with various learning disabilities to sharpen their academic skills in a fun environment.With her son struggling in local schools, Cathcart started looking for a summer camp that could help him. She couldn’t find one that had what she was really looking for, so in 1996 she founded the Learning Camp, bringing in teachers, and kids, from around the area, she said. As the camp grew over the years, Cathcart found the property at the top of Spring Creek. Starting small, the camp now owns about 36 acres there. Besides the creek, there’s a pond, hiking trails and a pasture for horseback riding.Besides the camp, kids take field trips almost every day, from Sweetwater Lake to Camp Hale.

“Kids can have a hard time with the books in the morning and a successful afternoon, and that can put things in perspective,” Cathcart said. “It’s why kids typically leave feeling successful.”Kids who have been to the camp over a couple of summers say they feel better about school after spending two or three weeks by the creek. “I did good in school last year,” said Nick Morin, 11, of Waco, Texas. “It really helps us get ready.”The camp does more than just focus on academics and adventure. Kids stay in yurts, and are expected to pick up after themselves and do their own laundry.The end result is kids who are more ready to take on life in school.”When I was in public schools, I got a lot more confidence,” said Gwenn Lavine, who’s finishing her fifth summer session this year. Now in a private school for kids with learning disabilities, Lavine said a summer near Gypsum is still a boost, but not nearly as important as it once was.



Now that she’s had a taste of life at the Learning Camp, Emily Kingston of Gypsum wishes she’d listened to her parents a couple of years ago. “They’d wanted me to go but I was too scared,” Kingston said. “It’s been fun. I want to come back.”The kids aren’t the only ones who have a leg up on the next school year.”I get to refine my skills, too,” said teacher Mark Cavaliero, who teaches fifth grade in Bailey, Colo. during the school year.”I’ll do units and try them here, then take them to school,” said Cavaliero, who’s taught at the Learning Camp since 1998.As someone who had his own learning problems as a youngster, Cavaliero is thrilled to be at the Learning Camp. “It’s a great way to spend a summer,” he said. “And I really believe in what Ann is doing here.”The kids seem to believe in it, too.

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.=============



About the Learning CampWhere: South of GypsumFounded: 1996What it does: Provides classes and activities to kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilitiesSessions sizes: No more than 35 kids

For more information: http://www.learningcamp.com=====================Vail Daily, Vail Colorado


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