Last month, Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda welcomed fifth- through eighth-graders to its campus for its 2016 summer camps. Tailored toward specific interests, they included a summer enrichment camp for a variety of academic subjects, an acting and singing camp, and a creative writing camp, in addition to a lineup of three sports clinics for youth to engage in baseball, football and soccer.
The Western New York Catholic visited the school during the creative writing and drama camps, which each ran for one week in July. Students engaged in activities and learned skills from English teacher Patrick Goatseay, who directs the spring musical and drama club, and Ashlee Amoia, an actress and singer who has been a lead singer for the Scintas in Las Vegas. Doug Buczak, director of admissions at Cardinal O'Hara High School, met Amoia while they were both training under Buffalo acting coach Frank Rossi.
"The kids are super enthusiastic. They're having a lot of fun, and it's just a way for kids to further their learning about something specific in the summer, like creative writing or acting and singing," Buczak said. "It also helps us, because they get introduced to our teachers and introduced to the school."
During a portion of the creative writing camp, students created story cubes, which put together a variety of words from which the students got inspiration for their stories. Goatseay, who teaches ninth grade, said, "I like to try and have them look at new and different techniques - not necessary just things we're going to do this week, but things they can take with them to always come up with a new story."
Students also got assignments with a picture, and a line from a story from which the picture supposedly came. Their completed stories needed to include that particular line somewhere in the text.
"This is my second year here at the camp. I've had fun so far this week, and I had fun last summer as well," said Jacob Schiesser, a sixth-grader at the creative writing camp. Emily Lyman, a seventh-grader, commented, "I've been a writer for so long, so to come here with my people, it's very enjoyable. I like coming up here and just sitting down with a good book in the library. It's a lot of fun."
At the acting and singing camp, students performed improvised skits in the school auditorium based on certain scenarios, including trying to keep from going over Niagara Falls in a canoe and reacting to a bad haircut received at a salon. "We do a couple of different warm-ups," Amoia said. "We do a couple of different improvs. Yesterday I had them do some commercial copies, which would be useful in an audition for a commercial. Today they're going to be doing scene work. We do lines where we are trying to build characters. With singing, I have them do some warm-up exercises. They've each picked a song."
On the final day, students were scheduled to perform their song and a scene, with most of the acting taking place in the morning and the singing in the afternoon. Amoia said she was amazed by how much the students improved in just two days. Their voices also improved with confidence.
Bianca Battaglia, an eighth-grader, said of the acting and singing camp, "I think going here is a lot of fun to hang out with friends, too. It's a great way to improve your acting and singing skills."
According to Brie Marchese, a seventh-grader, the camp gave her the chance to try singing in front of other people, which she had not previously done. Michayla Tarasek, a sixth-grader, also had not acted or sung in public, but the camp taught her how to perform for an audience. "I think this camp helps us grow in drama skills, while we can still have a fun time," commented Ben Michlinski, an eighth-grader.
Buczak said the camps were unique because they allowed for a more intensive period of study than an class during the regular school year, when the students are typically in classrooms with peers who might not be as interested in that subject as they are. Since students chose a five-day course tailored to their own interests, they were more likely to learn and stay engaged the whole time.
"It's not just like a normal class period, where you go to an acting or singing class for 45 minutes, and you're only going to that class twice a week, per se, during the school year. Now, those kids are there from 9 o'clock to 2 o'clock, getting a lot more intensive instruction in something that they love," Buczak added. "The camps (were) open to anyone in the area going into grades five through eight."
According to Buczak, many people think of summer camps as being mostly focused on outdoor activities, frequently sports oriented. While Cardinal O'Hara also offered sports clinics, these activities and academically enriching camps focus more on providing material like an elective class. "If your child really has a specific interest, going to a camp can really allow them to grow, can further their interest, their skill and their ability, because they're receiving the training," Buczak added.
"We're a family-like, smaller school atmosphere, and because the camps are a little bit smaller, you get to meet the kids one-on-one. You get to meet them. They meet you, your teachers, your staff - they get to know the building and their surroundings, and they get to be comfortable. They might say, 'Wow, I really like it there. Everyone was so nice and friendly. That might be a place where I want to go to high school.'"