Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Hasc Summer Program

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Hasc Summer Program

Article excerpt

Nestled among the cool mountains of New York's Catskills, surrounded by verdant fields, the HASC Summer Program is no ordinary summer camp. Nearly three decades ago, Camp HASC (a not-for-profit agency), made a commitment to provide a residential summer program to children with multiple and severe disabilities--and meet the challenge of improving their motor, communication, self-help, and social skills in the short stay of a summer vacation. The need for such a program was underscored by the concern of parents and special educators who frequently saw children regress during the summer months. This undertaking envisioned a state-of-the-art special education academic program harbored within the larger context of a sleep-away camp. In such a setting, children with special needs would have the opportunity to practice recently acquired skills, and forge ahead and learn many new skills. Thus was born the special education summer program, which is in session during the week from 9:30 - 3:30 on campus, and housed in three school buildings. Camp activities encompass the residential setting and recreational programs at all other hours and during the weekends. The school program and the camp recreational and residential programs are highly integrated with an overall plan to promote students' development in all areas and foster the unique unfolding of each child's potential, self efficacy, and feeling of mastery.

Special educators and therapists work with the children during the school hours in the indoor classrooms and all around the campus where lessons take place. Academic lessons are not confined to the indoors but encompass a wide variety of experiences such as gardening, working at the pet care/nature center, pool, gym, as well as in the dining room, and even in the bunks, where comprehensive self-help skills in dressing, washing, and grooming activities are practiced. Campers are cared for by counselors who also serve in the vital role of teacher assistants during the school hours and who are trained to effectively extend and generalize the school lessons to after-school hours. For example, a cognitive skill such as counting items would be practiced after school in the dining room by counting silverware, cups, etc.; on the ball field by counting balls or hoops; or on a nature hike by counting trees, flowers, rocks, etc. Similarly teachers are able to train the counselors in making developmentally appropriate selections in using the available adaptive toys and books in the campus library, thus integrating this resource into both academic and leisure activities.

Practicing the school lessons during after-school hours in different settings and circumstances promotes generalization of the concepts and enables the children to internalize the lessons. Moreover, the special educators are able to monitor day-to-day extended activities, trouble-shoot potential problems, assess progress, and give and receive ongoing feedback. In this fine-tuned system, significant progress takes place incrementally. In addition, this model provides the blueprints for training parents and caregivers in extending school lessons to home activities. It also provides ideas for teacher training and guidelines for replication of this program by other camps.

While this concept was the cornerstone of Camp HASC for many years, in the summer of 1999 the HASC Summer Program was the recipient of a Federal grant (US Dept of Education: Fund for the Improvement of Education) to evaluate the effectiveness of this program in enhancing the educational achievements of developmentally disabled children.

Program evaluation conducted by outside consultant experts confirmed that the children significantly benefited from having their counselors serve as assistant teachers in the classrooms and that extending the classroom lessons to after-school hours resulted in significant educational gains for the children. Moreover, this model has also had a positive effect on improving teacher and counselor performance. …

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