Summer provides a fun break for children – but it also can mean an opportunity for students to participate in engaging educational opportunities that help prepare them for the coming school year, while exposing them to new and exciting learning experiences.
That’s the purpose of Camp La Casa, a free summer program designed to help grade school children age 6-13 (grades 2-8) prepare for a new school year. Camp La Casa is a service of La Casa Guadalupana, whose mission is to revitalize and improve conditions, including economic security and future prospects, in the lives of the Southwest Detroit Hispanic community by providing education, basic needs, health and support services for families.
“This year, in particular, so much instruction time has been lost due to COVID, and our children have much to learn because English is their second language,” said Sr. Marie Benzing, Camp La Casa program director and director of the La Casa Guadalupana tutoring program. “While the camp is only two weeks, it gets them back to practicing math and reading skills, and provides additional activities and experiences that enhance their life and learning opportunities. Our children discover that if they can improve their skills, their grades in school improve, their parents are proud of their efforts, and their attitude about school improves.”
Camp La Casa participants work on math and reading with tutors, tailored for the needs of the individual student. Additional enrichment activities provide children with new information, experiences, and opportunities for creative writing and artistic expression, including educational field trips and programs on health and architecture.
In 2019 and again this summer, Camp La Casa incorporated Michigan Architectural Foundation’s (MAF) ‘Architecture: it’s Elementary!’ lesson plans into its program. Developed and supported by AIA (American Institute of Architects) Michigan architects, with input from educators, the multi-disciplinary educational curriculum introduces students to architecture and the built environment, with critical STEAM (science/technology/engineering/arts/math) related activities.
“Architecture: it’s Elementary! was designed to inspire children to learn about architecture, in a hands-on, fun, and interactive way,” said architect Rocco Romano, AIA, Camp La Casa volunteer and one of the creators of the Architecture: it’s Elementary! curriculum. “Our goal is to help children learn how buildings, cities, and communities are designed and built, as well as help them develop better observation, reasoning and critical thinking skills, and of course, to fuel their imaginations about the world around them.” Rocco, along with architects Stephen LaGrassa, AIA; Matthew Guinta, AIA, NCARB; Ellen Moore AIA, NCARB; and Juan Arias, NOMA, NCARB; and other volunteers, help conduct the Architecture: it’s Elementary! lesson plans with camp participants.
Camp La Casa field trips included The Detroit Zoo, where students were able to apply lessons from the Architecture: it’s Elementary! curriculum, including learning about habitats and ecology. They then created PowerPoint presentations on what they saw and learned on the field trips.
“MAF has brought architecture to the children, which is a new and exciting experience for them. They are learning new architectural vocabulary, shapes, and concepts, and seeing them applied in real-world environments,” said Sr. Marie. “And what made incorporating the Architecture: it’s Elementary! lesson plans into our existing camp program both attractive and manageable was not only the nature of the program, but also the commitment of Rocco and the other architects to volunteering their time to work with the children and to bettering their lives through learning.”
For this year’s Camp La Casa, healthy living was also a focus. “One of the tutors, a Wayne State University pre-med student, has a passion for prevention and for children to form healthy habits that will carry them through adulthood,” said Sr. Marie. “She found a wonderful curriculum for children on various aspects of healthy life style, including healthy snacks and outdoor exercise.”
La Casa Guadalupana began in June 2014 in the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe, serving the Hispanic population of Southwest Detroit. In addition to Camp La Casa, programs include adult ESL (English as a
Second Language) classes; adult basic education and GED certifications; family health, finance, parenting, and citizenship classes; weekend family enrichment activities; youth after-school tutoring, and individualized educational plans that include job/college prep.
“We firmly believe that education is the key to future success and wellbeing, and that the most important indicator of our residents’ ability to navigate American society and increase their economic sufficiency is education,” said Sr. Marie. “When children see their parents taking classes to improve their lives and their opportunities, supported by their community, it models the importance of academic achievement for them.”
Camp La Casa also received support from MAF Architecture Awareness Grants in 2019, and again in 2021, which helped fund camp t-shirts, bus transportation and field trip entrance tickets. The grants are available to individuals and organizations that organize, sponsor and promote events, lectures, publications and experiences that contribute to public awareness of architecture. Grants are awarded on a rolling basis.
For more information on La Casa Guadalupana and Camp La Casa, visit www.lcgdetroit.org. For more information on MAF’s Architecture: it’s Elementary! visit https://michiganarchitecturalfoundation.org/education/resources-for-kids