Triangle-area youth summer camps fill quickly

aspecht@newsobserver.comFebruary 9, 2014 

— Like many 13-year-old girls, Angelina Morin wants to spend her summer at home by the pool.

Like many mothers, Arlene Morin is determined to make sure that doesn’t occur.

“It ain’t happening,” mama Morin said, laughing as she opened her totebag full of pamphlets. “I’ve already got camps picked out for six weeks of the summer. I need to fill four more.”

Morin works a minimum-wage job helping people with Alzheimer’s disease. She can’t (and doesn’t want to) stay home with her daughter once Martin Middle School dismisses for the summer.

So she was one of hundreds of parents who attended Carolina Parent magazine’s camp and education fair at St. Mary’s School in Raleigh on Sunday.

The event aims to connect parents with an ideal camp – and sometimes a scholarship – for their child during summer or track-out before it’s too late.

The most popular camps fill up fast.

“If you’re a parent in the Triangle, you have to begin looking for a camp now – otherwise you won’t get in,” said Brenda Larson, Carolina Parent publisher.

Morin knows from experience.

“Last year I waited until May, and almost everything was full,” she said.

The Greensboro YMCA’s overnight Camp Weaver is already half full, business manager Allison Shelnut told Morin Sunday.

Most summer camps at the fair fell into one of two categories: educational or recreational.

Camp Weaver tries to combine the two in an idyllic one-week summer camp experience for about $620, Shelnut said.

Aside from building campfires, canoeing and hiking, “we have a strong focus on building friendships and social skills,” she said.

Arts, crafts and nature camps have traditionally dominated the camp scene. But recently, camps based on math and science have surged in popularity.

Many of the available jobs in the United States require training in science, technology, engineering and math – known as the STEM fields.

Now, schools are nudging students into those fields and parents are seeking extra help.

“I’d love it if my son could learn STEM without actually realizing that he’s learning,” said Kim Pendergrass, whose 7-year-old resists worksheets and textbooks.

Holly Springs residents Tom and Wendy Harrington started their own STEM tutoring business five months ago to meet the growing demand.

Wendy Harrington is a former marketing consultant. Her husband previously worked as an IT systems administrator for a law firm.

They now own part of the Challenge Island franchise, which teaches students STEM through hands-on projects in after-school programs and summer camps.

“Every lesson plan has a STEM concept,” Tom Harrington said. “We might study gravity and momentum before building roller coasters out of pipe insulation and marbles.”

Weeklong Challenge Island camps at Apex Montessori School run from $225 to $250, they said.

The Triangle also offers camps that are less conventional but have a local flavor.

For instance, former N.C. State and NFL football players Torry and Terrence Holt offer a one-day football camp in Raleigh for $50.

They spend the first half the day with students in grades 1 through 8, and the second half of the day with high schoolers.

The experience is special because the Holts are ex-athletes – Torry Holt retired with the 10th-most receiving yards in NFL history – and because the camp offers kids insight into what it takes to be successful.

“We talk about everything from grades, to listening to your parents, to girls, to the importance of saving your money,” Terrence Holt said as he twirled a football in the St. Mary’s gym.

Then, for those hoping to expand their child’s cultural horizons, there’s C’est si Bon Cooking School in Chapel Hill.

The school teaches cooking, nutrition and food history to children ages 8 to 14 at a rate of $395 per week. Students develop a palate and enough appreciation of food to participate in a tasting bee at the end of the week.

“They’re empowering themselves to find out what they like,” owner Rich Snover said.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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