Charter school camp an innovative solution

Kindergartner Brantley Beynon plays hopscotch during a Camp Innovation physical education class at The Villages Charter Elementary School Primary Center. Camp Innovation continues next week.

The Villages Charter School students are experiencing a mix of physical education, arts, design projects, an introduction to career academies and some academics in Camp Innovation. The two-week, optional academic and enrichment program for kindergarten through 12th grade begins its second week Monday. The start of the school year was delayed two weeks to Aug. 19. Camp Innovation has attracted about 800 students a day in the first week, said Randy McDaniel, education director for the charter school, which enrolls more than 3,300 students during the regular school year. The number of students changes daily because students may attend some parts of the program but not others, he said. Parents, particularly those of younger students, may need child care some days, but students may have appointments, such as with the dentist or for a haircut, other days. High school students may want to attend specific classes or programs offered at particular times or on certain days.

Reviews from students have been positive.

“All my kids are loving it,” said Chris Weber, the father of four students at the charter school who are attending Camp Innovation. “I think it’s very organized just like The Villages Charter School always is.”

“They absolutely love it,” especially physical education, parent Amy Lazdowski said about her children, Dean, 10, starting fifth grade, and Ellie, going into seventh grade.

Ellie agreed with her mother and said what she likes is “seeing my friends, even if we have to wear masks.”

Masks are mandatory at the charter school. Principals make sure students have their masks covering the nose and mouth and take the temperatures of each student before allowing them onto campus.

In the Intermediate Center of the elementary school, third-grade teacher Loree Phillips said the proper way to wear masks and wash hands are part of the daily lessons.

“We have our germ lesson every morning,” she said.

Then the third-graders move into fun activities related to the book the class read.

Thursday, they had read “The Day the Crayons Quit.”

“The book is about crayons. They want to quit their work,” third-grader Piper Kopel said. “Some had issues. Some didn’t. Green didn’t have issues. Orange and yellow both said they were the color of the sun.”

One class used fly-swatters in a game, boys against girls, to review vocabulary words from the book. Across the hall, Phillips’ class broke up old crayons to fill a flexible heart-shaped mold and make new crayons using the sun’s heat to melt the wax and make new crayons.

They learned about the history of crayons. They colored a picture of their favorite color of crayon and were going to cut out features, such as eyes, hands and feet to attach them.

“We’re working on problem-and-solution as our (English language arts) skill this week,” Phillips said.

Wednesday, the third-graders designed playgrounds and built models, said Vice Principal Sandy Nielsen, who oversees the Intermediate Center for second and third grades. The children designed innovative swings. One playground had a zipline. Another had a see-saw. They described them, too, Nielsen said.

Phillips said her class also learned about the history of playgrounds. The first “sand garden” playground was in Germany. The first in the United States was in Boston, she said.

“It’s fun all the things I’m learning,” Phillips said.

Another class learned how to play chess earlier in the week, Nielsen said.

Another had read a story about a dragon. Then children drew, colored and cut out their dragons and built an entrapment for their dragon out of craft sticks, pipe cleaners, cardboard tubes and other items, she said.

Students also had art, music, Spanish and physical education lessons, Nielsen said.

The lower grades attracted higher percentages of students to Camp Innovation, including about 200 second- and third-graders, Nielsen said.

“Our children are too young to be by themselves,” she said.

The elementary grades were approaching Camp Innovation more like a summer camp, McDaniel said. The middle school used a themed concept.

“The high school is taking a whole different approach to the needs of students,” he said.

Students took SAT or ACT preparation classes in the morning, Villages High School Principal Rob Grant said. The high school also invited students who took an Advanced Placement class but did not score a 3 or higher on the AP exam to take a College-Level Examination Program preparation class and test, for which many colleges also award credit for passing scores.

The high school’s career academies are also offering introductions to their programs, which students can enter in 11th grade, Grant said. Students choose which programs they wanted to attend.

Attendance ranged from about 50 to 60 at different times each day last week, Activities Coordinator Brianne Holt said. Some students took online classes on campus through Florida Virtual School. Freshmen took orientation tours in small groups.

Culinary Arts Academy teacher John Woods said he had 20 students Monday and 16 Wednesday for his introduction, when they talked about avoiding cross-contamination and food safety. Then they made ice cream, coconut on Monday and coffee on Wednesday, and chocolate chip cookies from scratch both days.

High school students liked what they experienced at Camp Innovation.

“I like the 2-D art class in the afternoon,” 11th-grader Alana Portas, 16, said.

Tenth-grader Grant Kincannon said he likes weight training at the school.

Students also got to attend a 2020 version of band camp, Vice Principal Kelly Colley said.

Some students enjoy the camp so much, they have brought their friends, she said.

“Most of the kids are ready to come back and see their friends,” Holt said.

Staff writer Dayna Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or