Emmanuel Cordero is impatient with his mother and her light conversation. "Mom! Now we have to talk about the camp!" he says with preteen inflection, drawing out the last word into three syllables for emphasis.
The 11-year-old can barely sit still as he describes the activities from last summer's Blue Sky Meadow Science Camp — bird watching, geology hikes, making magnets, catching insects and even observing a tarantula. Emmanuel would rather be outside than in a classroom. As he explains it, "There aren't chairs or tables, so I don't fall asleep." The sixth-grader likes his Pico Rivera school, but attention deficit disorder makes it hard to focus. Another difficulty is socializing with the other kids because of his mild autism. Despite these challenges he enjoys reading, history and science and falls within the top percentiles of standardized test scores.
Paying attention wasn't a problem during his one week at Blue Sky Meadow. Exploring the plants and wildlife of the San Bernardino Mountains and National Forest kept Emmanuel so engaged that he was wiped out at day's end. Back at his bunk in the Quail Room of Bird Cabin, Emmanuel wanted only to sleep and recharge. As he puts it, "The nights there were really short."
Run by the Los Angeles County Education Foundation, the camp is geared for both kids with disabilities and those from low-income families. The camp activities are intended to encourage and enhance the study of science, a field often associated with more affluent students and high academic achievers. "Camp is not a scary place where you have to put pencil to paper and fill out a test," says LACEF business manager Jane Buck. Instead, she says, "Camp gives kids confidence, and it's fun."
Blue Sky Meadow is ideal for Emmanuel, who hopes to be an inventor or scientist. When he returns to camp this summer he plans to catch a bee, observe pond wildlife, improve his archery skills and eat s'mores.
Emmanuel's mother says camp provides the opportunity for him to develop the social skills that don't always come naturally to him. Plus, she's grateful that she has to pay only half of the camp's fee. "The camp has helped us money-wise," she says, "and it's helped him by providing a life experience."
With $1.6 million raised last year by the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Campaign about 6,500 children will go to camp in Southern California this summer.
The Summer Camp Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation fund, which matches all donations at 50 cents on the dollar.
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