Hooking 'Em with Harry Summer Camps Add a Fun Twist to Learning

By Malone, Tara | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Hooking 'Em with Harry Summer Camps Add a Fun Twist to Learning


Malone, Tara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tara Malone Daily Herald Staff Writer

Days after the school year ended, with final assignments and report cards sent home, Annie Klink did the unimaginable in her young friends' eyes: She headed back to class.

Willingly.

Klink enrolled not in any ho-hum summer school, but in the Harry Potter-inspired Muggle Academy, otherwise known as Northern Illinois University's camp.

An 11-year-old from Hampshire, Klink's fascination with the young wizard conjured by best-selling author J.K. Rowling trumped any hesitation about surrendering a week of summer to what counselors bill as an academic experience.

"I know it's about wizards, but it seems really realistic," Klink said of Rowling's tale that spawned four films and six books, selling 300 million copies worldwide. "It just kind of gets you hooked."

Camp organizers hope Harry will cast a similar spell on a dozen children who reported this week to the inaugural Muggle Academy.

This is the newest exhibit in a widespread effort to remake summer camps, angling to spark student interest with the latest technology, treasure hunts or trendy themes.

Here's the catch: Kids learn along the way. They can't help it, educators say.

"They'll get more academic content than they maybe were counting on, but it's being packaged creatively," Northern Illinois University's Katherine Wright said.

Such learning plugs the academic drain that's as much a part of summer vacation as ice cream and picnics.

Yet in an era of heightened accountability, where teachers, principals and schools are judged by how students score on yearly assessment tests, educators say they cannot afford for students to lose up to a month of learning during the summer hiatus.

"If you talk with teachers, they'll tell you quite frequently they spend the first two weeks of the new year refreshing kids on what they should know from the year before," said Harris Cooper, a psychology professor at Duke University. "Children who are having trouble in school take longer to get back up to speed."

Weeklong injections of learning help keep students on track but also let them relax during summer, experts say.

Still, gaining their interest and attention is a challenge, if only for a week. That's where the latest literary craze or technical gadgetry helps.

Take Benedictine University's super sleuths camp.

In essence, professors challenge eight dozen middle-schoolers to unravel a mystery, whether it is developing coal as an energy source or doctoring a new alternative fuel. …

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