October 8, 2008

It all started with an essay describing how students think they will benefit from GO Jam Camp, an overnight health and wellness adventure far from the confines of a brick and mortar classroom. After the screening process, 36 winning entrants from two Jefferson County schools arrived at Otter Creek Park in Meade County for two days full of information that could impact their future education, career and life goals.

Since 2002, the 4H Youth Development arm of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service's Jefferson County office has partnered with the Northwest Area Health and Education Center and other universities to offer fourth- and fifth-graders a chance to explore careers and college life through GO Jam Camp.

Willie Howard, Jefferson County 4H Youth development extension agent, said the program this year was boosted by a 4-H Toyota Water Grant.

"This camp is an opportunity for students to learn about different educational programs that could benefit their health," Howard said. "We also used part of the state water grant to fund the stream ecology session of the camp. Students learn about how the environment affects streams and how the health of the stream can affect their health."

Mike Corus is the coordinator of the family resource center at Okolona Elementary, one of the participating schools. His students' essays revolved around career exploration, nutrition, exercise and how they can teach their families the information they learn at camp.

"This is an experiential learning environment, and it helps kids retain information for a longer time," he said. "Partnerships like this are what make it (eliminating learning barriers) happen; it gives our students opportunities they don't always get in their classrooms."

Eric Wright is Corus' counterpart at Gutermuth Elementary. He said the hands-on learning at GO Jam Camp is invaluable.

"They get excited to get out in the woods, camping and learning at the same time," he said. "The stream ecology was really eye opening to them. They saw a lot of living things and learned that if they pollute, they get sick."

The first day of camp was filled with interactive, concurrent sessions about diabetes, asthma and stream ecology. Campers experienced how it might feel to have the two diseases through hands-on activities that stimulated neuropathy, vision problems and tight airways. The afternoon focused on physical activity, and the evening was packed with activities showing campers how to make healthy eating choices.

On day two, campers toured Spencerian College to get an idea of what secondary education has to offer and to get an early look at paths to pursue their career goals.

James Kiper's daughter, Emma Thomas, is a fourth grader at Okolona Elementary. He came to camp as a chaperone.

"It's a great experience and a stepping stone to understanding health and learning how to treat your body," he said. "They also get experience working in groups."

Emma said she came to camp because she wanted to have fun, but she got more than she bargained for in a good way. She said some of the activities were complicated but interesting and yes, even fun.

The campers took pre- and post-tests to measure what they learned at camp.

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