A child holds up a card that has the number 21 on it as he looks at a teacher in a classroom

Shree Patel (yellow shirt) is one of several students who received instruction at Camp Curiosity in Owensboro this year. The program began a decade ago as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program, which aims to ensure that all migratory children reach academic standards and graduate high school prepared for life and employment.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, Kentucky Department of Education, June 29, 2023

(Owensboro, KY.) — Being the oldest child in a family can feel like a job sometimes. A lot of responsibilities come with the role, such as setting a good example for younger siblings or taking care of them when guardians cannot.

For some children, the role of translator becomes a responsibility when no one else in their family can speak the same language as everyone around them. 

Yuleidy Garcia-Ramirez is an incoming high school freshman in Daviess County. She was born in Mexico and moved to the United States in 2008 with her family. They have lived in Kentucky for close to 14 years.

As the oldest of four children, Ramirez experienced some of the challenges of being the oldest sibling in an immigrant family who does not know English.

“Growing up was kind of difficult for me because I had to learn new things, I had to translate and I learned by myself reading Spanish,” she said. “Being the oldest can be tough. Whenever we would go to clinics or when we would go repair our car, people would ask me for help (translating).”

In elementary school, Ramirez began attending an annual four-week summer program known as Camp Curiosity, which is hosted by Daviess County Schools and aimed towards enhancing the learning and language abilities of migratory children in Daviess County.

Camp Curiosity is now offered to all English language learners in Owensboro.

This program began a decade ago as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program, which aims to ensure that all migratory children reach academic standards and graduate high school prepared for life and employment.

Camp Curiosity has found new light in recent years with the help of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. The federal funding supports the safe and sustained return to in-person learning and expands equity by supporting students who need it most, particularly those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the help of ESSER funds, the organization has been able to expand the population of students it serves.

“The ESSER dollars are highly critical to our work here in Daviess County,” said assistant superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools, Jana Beth Francis. “Through Camp Curiosity, we’re able to provide extended learning to all English learners. Prior to the ESSER funding, we were only able to do that for our students that were in the migrant program.”

The district has also extended the invitation to Camp Curiosity to all English learners in Owensboro Independent Schools, as well as those in Daviess County.

Camp organizers said the goal is to help English language learners understand basic skills that will allow them to succeed during the school year.

“English is not their native language, so what our focus is, is developing foundational literacy skills so that we can help bridge those educational gaps that exist,” said Shelly Hammons, administrator of Camp Curiosity and the federal programs coordinator of Daviess County Schools. “If we get them to the point where they are very fluent in all types of the English language, then that will prepare them better to be able to be successful in all that happens inside a classroom.”

The camp focuses on math and reading skills while incorporating other hobbies to make things enjoyable and interactive for students.

“We fund arts and (physical education) and all kinds of activities for students during the summer that make learning meaningful and exciting,” said Francis. 

For Ramirez, attending Camp Curiosity at a young age allowed her extra opportunities to learn new concepts and improve her English. 

A woman points to a piece of paper as two kids look at where she's pointing

Catherine Wright, an assistant with Camp Curiosity, helps a couple of students with their lesson for the day.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, Kentucky Department of Education, June 29, 2023

“While growing up, I would be like ‘Oh, I’m so happy I learned new things which I can use now to translate,’” she said.

ESSER funds have allowed the camp to grow in other ways as well: this is the first summer Camp Curiosity has been offered for grades K-12 and it is the first-year students who are able to earn a full credit towards their degree.

High schoolers spend half their time at camp working towards earning credit for social studies. They take mini-civics tests throughout camp and at the end of the four weeks, take the civics exam to earn half a credit towards this subject. They spend the other half of their time earning a half credit for an English elective.

Francis said that credit acquisition was an addition to camp that stakeholders were hopeful would benefit and attract high school students.

Bleh Shee, a student at Apollo High School (Daviess County), is attending Camp Curiosity this year for just that reason. He needed an English credit for school in order to play soccer next year. Camp Curiosity provides him that opportunity so he can stay on track and be part of a sport he loves.

“I know how to read more than I used to because I don’t really read, but they teach me,” said Shee. “I like it. It’s not hard. It’s not easy. It’s kind of in the middle.”

Ramirez shared some examples of what high schoolers worked on at camp this year.

“We are learning roots, prefixes, making new words with them and right now we’re reading ‘The Giver,’” she said, referencing a novel written by Lois Lowry. “We are learning about how different it is, like a dystopia. And it’s like modern society, comparing it to how ‘The Giver’ society is.”

Besides learning, Ramirez likes the social aspect of camp.

“I just like seeing my friends here and having fun,” she said.

Having fun is a big part of what many participants like about Camp Curiosity, along with being part of a community.

“I saw the people around me and I actually felt really welcomed here,” Ramirez said. “You get to see your own people. You get to see other people and other races.”

Luis Juarez-Lopez, an upcoming 8th-grader, is another camper who enjoys the social ability of camp.

“What is (most) exciting for me is meeting new people,” he said.

Administrators and parents alike have seen the impact camp has on students.

“This camp is not only education, but it’s where they build friendship and bring a community together,” said Annie Phan, the parent of a third-grade student at Camp Curiosity. “My daughter, she loves this camp so much because she gets to see her old friends and she gets to see all her friends from different schools that she hasn’t seen for a long time.”

Hammons expressed how obvious it is the students enjoy their time at camp.

“When they unload day one, you see the pure excitement for those kids being here,” she said.

Daviess County’s school board believed that expanding the services of Camp Curiosity was necessary because of the significant educational challenges the English language learning community faced during the pandemic, said Daviess County Superintendent Matt Robbins.

“We knew the population of English learners were going to be doubly affected because not only were they not getting the support they would get day in and day out in school, they might not have had a first language English speaker at home to be able to help them,” said Francis. “We wanted to use our ESSER dollars to help mitigate any loss they might have had in learning.”

In addition to the expanded population of students the camp can accommodate because of ESSER funds, many functional details within the workings of the program have been improved due to the extra money.

Teachers involved with Camp Curiosity are compensated their regular daily wages., while transportation and two meals are provided to students every day. ESSER funds have allowed the county to focus its curriculum on the specific educational needs of English language learners.

A woman stands as a group of kids walks onto a bus.

Students at Camp Curiosity are provided transportation to and from the school along with two meals each day.
Photo by Joe Ragusa, Kentucky Department of Education, June 29, 2023

“It’s literally like running a mini school for four weeks in the summer and we get to have a great opportunity to build strong connections with these students and their families,” said Francis.

For many, this program has provided chances that would otherwise not be possible without the help of Camp Curiosity.

“I know that (parents) all want a better future for their kids, but they don’t know how to help out,” said Phan. “This camp, it’s like an opportunity for our students and our kids, and they get to learn, and they get extra help that they don’t get enough of in their regular school hours.”

Ramirez said that she continues to attend camp each year because of how it helps her expand her knowledge and advance her education.

“Just literally learning new things is what I like,” she said. “It helps you pass a grade or give credits to you.”

Hammons noted how Camp Curiosity has been a successful learning tool in Daviess County for many years, but Francis said without ESSER funds, the program would not be what it is today.

“I can say, without a doubt, that the ESSER funding has made Camp Curiosity an excellent summer program,” Francis said. “We’re able to bring in the best teachers. We’re able to bring in great community partners. We really feel like we’ve given more students an opportunity to extend their learning, hopefully to get them on the track of acceleration, so that they can be successful during the school year.”