By Janie Southard
It was a dark and stormy night when a ship ran aground inside the Galleria, narrowly missing a grove of palm trees, a school of colorful fish swinging from the sky and a straw-hatted teacher in a loud tropical shirt.
Camp Invention kids spilled out onto the island and, quick as a wink, began to identify plant and animal life. As one would expect, it wasn't long before they began to make paper and chalk in order to communicate their shipwrecked situation to the outside world.
Or, maybe it was to get word to the outside world, which could mean sending a message to the kids who crashed on Planet Zak further inside the Galleria.
But that group had its hands full creating shelter and making uniforms on this alien planet of unstable weather -- to say nothing of their challenge to find food in the popcorn swamp.
Presented through Mercer County Educational Service Center, the one-week program came about due to requests from parents wanting a good summer program for their second-through sixth -graders. The program, which combines fun and learning, began in 1990 as an educational outreach program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. It now serves children in 42 states.
"Although it's highly creative, it's not for gifted students and not for those with learning difficulties. It's for that mddle group who function at a higher level," explained ESC Gifted Programs Supervisor Ken Rosengarten on Wednesday, coincidentally his last day with the local ESC.
Rosengarten discovered the program recently at a convention for gifted programs and recognized immediately that it would fill the bill on what local parents had been requesting.
What was needed first was a location big enough to accommodate the various activities. Problem was solved when the Galleria became available.
Camp Invention is pricey, $199 per student. Camp Director Brenda Kaup, who has taught gifted eduction, special education, and language arts, said she was worried at first.
"Even though it's a great program, I thought it just wouldn't happen because of the cost (to parents). I thought we'd be lucky to get 20 kids but the final count is 31," she said, adding all six Mercer County school districts are represented and attendance has been 100 percent.
Many kids who have attended other special learning camps, i.e. Camp Inquire and/or Kid Connection, come back to school in the fall and ask "why can't school be like Camp Inquire?." Rosengarten speculated that Camp Invention kids will ask that same question.
"If the environment is right, kids love to learn," Rosengarten said.
Speaking as a classroom teacher, Kaup observed creativity takes a lot of time.
"Teachers don't have that kind of time anymore. We have to teach to the test," she said referring to the state achievement tests.
Perhaps those longing for school to be like Camp Inquire/Kid Connection/Camp Invention are actually the teachers.