Beyond Camp Nominated for National Award

The number of children identified with learning differences continues to increase. According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with the United States Health Resources and Services Administration, from 1997-2008, prevalence of autism increased 289.5%, prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increased 33.0%, and prevalence of learning disability increased 5.5%. JB exists to meet the needs of these students. Over the past 60 years, JB has updated its curriculum to meet student needs and incorporate best practices.

What JB did not have until five years ago was a summer camp program. Julie Billiart School launched Beyond Camp, a four-week summer camp providing social skills training and combatting summer learning loss (SLL) for students with special learning needs. SLL is a barrier to students’ progress. Studies show that kids with learning challenges return to school one month behind where they were at the end of the school year. SLL is especially detrimental for students who rely on school to teach social skills alongside academics. At JB, where professionals carefully document student learning through Individualized Education Programs, administrators have noted that most students lose academic and social skills over the summer.

The primary goals of Beyond Camp are to 1) Develop the social skills that are the most challenging for this population, including perspective taking and emotional regulation; 2) Generalize these skills to various parts of the community, which students will need for career readiness; 3) Provide creative expression opportunities through exercise, cooking, writing, art, computer coding, singing and acting; and 4) provide academic boost to combat SLL.

Beyond Camp, in its inaugural year, served 30 students with learning differences and expanded to 50 students in years 2 through 4. The camp is directed by the school’s assistant principal who is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The camp is staffed with seven Intervention Specialists. Students are served in a 4:1 ratio.

Prior to the start of Beyond Camp, social skills assessments are completed for each student. From this information, staff develop social goals, implement these goals throughout the day using creative and engaging methods, collect data daily on each goal, and adjust goals weekly based on progress. Using the social and academic skill data, staff created appropriate individual and group activities to address deficits, modifying as needed each day.  In the summer of 2018, 72% of the student goals were mastered (as indicated by 80% or better accuracy). Both students and staff work very hard to meet these high standards of mastery.

In a pilot program expanding two summers, Beyond Camp included two former JB students (current high school students) as Counselors in Training (CIT). Proudly the program expanded in summer of 2018 to include a full vocational program for high school students with learning challenges. Seven students benefited from this program. Five were former JB students. JB’s service to disabled individuals ends after 8th grade, yet the future during and after high school can be uncertain. Self-advocacy, cooperative social skills, and executive functioning were the major foci of the vocational program. CIT completed an application, interviewed, and independently submitted the request for accommodations paperwork. CIT have Individualized Education Plans (IEP) or Service Plans (SP) at their high school. CIT assisted in developing summer learning goals based on their desired areas of improvements as well as the IEP or SP. Executive functioning skills were developed through the use of daily checklists for task completion, assistance with prioritizing and time management. CIT also learned to cooperate and work together as a team, while taking direction from both the vocational education supervisor (assigned directly to them) and intervention specialists in charge of the group they were assigned to.

With a vocational education supervisor staff member who was focused entirely on the CIT, we were able to develop positive outcome measures by incremental growth on the IEP and SP that were communicated to the high schools. There was a whopping 2569 measured learning opportunities for these young ladies and gentlemen. They had an average of 7.3 learning objectives each. Overall 86% of their objectives were mastered at 80% or better criteria.

Outcomes can be measured by the percentage of goals mastered but also by anecdotal observations. For example, during the past summer one of the CITs  said “I love this- it doesn’t feel like work at all.” The CITs are now excited about a future working with children, where they previously felt unsure of their futures and what they were capable of accomplishing. They have developed a close friendship with one another, keep in regular contact, and see each other on the weekends.

There is no public funding available for this model and we are relying on the generosity of community donors to make this happen.

Not only does Beyond Camp provide growth experience for our K-8 campers, but we have also found a way to provide meaningful vocational education to a population of high school students whose needs would otherwise go unserved by our community. We strive to include our K-8 students in the community and have now included our former HS students in a way that will provide work skills for life-long independence and inclusion.
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