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North Hills Monthly

From Outdoor Exploring to Acting on Stage: Camps Offer a World of Options

Mar 30, 2019 10:50AM ● By April Johnston

Katie's Clay Studio

The camper arrived at Allegheny College’s annual Creek Camp a bit apprehensive. She’d just completed a different residential camp in another state, and it hadn’t been as fun or fulfilling as advertised. Now, here she was, in the middle of Meadville, PA, preparing for yet another week of living in a college dorm with a bunch of strangers.

A day after arrival, Creek Camp Director Laura Branby found the high schooler crying. She rushed over, ready to provide some comfort, but it turned out the student didn’t need any. She was crying tears of happiness.

“Everyone is just so nice,” she told Branby. “I’m so much happier here.”

So happy that the student ended up attending Allegheny College and returning to Creek Camp as a counselor years later.

“For most kids, this is their first residential opportunity, the first time they’re without someone they know,” Branby said. “But within 24 hours, we watch them form a family bond. They feel a real comfort at Allegheny.”

Part of what makes the experience so positive for students is the warm and welcoming nature of the Creek Camp staff, but the other part of it is the freedom of being on their own and out in nature, learning about their—and its—diversity, fragility and potential.

“It’s a real hands-on experience,” Branby said. “That makes a big difference.”

Or, as the Camp Creek blog proclaims: They will get wet, they will get dirty, and they will love it.

In the world of summer camps, there are two, well, camps: those that offer the exhausting, round-the-clock adventure of spending long days outdoors and sleeping away from home, and those that cater to specific interests and experiences and allow kids to stay closer to the comforts of home.

Creek Camp falls firmly in the former category. The 14-year-old camp is a week-long immersion in nature and freshwater ecology. High school sophomores, juniors and seniors explore the French Creek watershed, one of the most biodiverse waterways in the country, and perform research and experiments alongside Allegheny College faculty and environmental professionals.

They wade the French Creek watershed, hunt for hellbenders (a brownish-grey salamander common in the eastern and central U.S.), visit the college observatory and peer through the 100-year-old telescope (so powerful they can see Saturn’s rings), and walk the woods calling for owls, among many, many other things.

“It’s absolutely exhausting, but we love it,” Branby said. 

But not every kid is ready for a sleep-away adventure or excited at the prospect of traipsing through the woods. Katie Petrovich certainly wouldn’t have been.

Petrovich is the owner of Katie’s Clay, a ceramics and art studio located on Route 8 in Hampton Township, and her ideal summer camp as a child was one filled with art and imagination, where she could create without limits. It’s an experience she tries to recreate for this generation at her studio’s full-day camps, mini-camps and workshops.

“We are definitely for a different type of child,” Petrovich said. “I feel like those kids are out there, and they’re looking for a place to go.”

Petrovich provides it. This summer, she’s offering seven camps and 19 workshops over 11 weeks for kids ages 5 to 16. Among the sessions are canvas painting, clay wheel throwing, clay sculpting, tie dying, pottery painting and—the one she’s most excited about—building and designing your dream dollhouse.

Campers don’t need to have experience in the arts, but they do need to have the ability to plan a project and see it through. “We plan and draw, and then we take it from 2D to 3D,” Petrovich said. “It’s a process and it does take the full days.”

The multiple camps and workshops offer opportunities for kids to try different activities and projects. And, of course, they have their physical product to show for it at the end.

But like Branby at Creek Camp, Petrovich believes the most important part of camp—whether it’s spent in a creek or at a pottery wheel—is the growth that comes with it. Her students leave having stretched the limits of their skills and their imaginations. Branby’s students leave with a new appreciation for nature and independence.

“Parents say, ‘I dropped my kid off at camp and I picked up this completely different human,’” Branby said. “The kids just blow them away with the knowledge and care they’ve acquired.”

Looking for an outdoor adventure this summer?

Allegheny College Creek Camp:

Camp Deer Creek: Pittsburgh’s longest-running summer day camp offers a slew of activities—swimming, rock climbing, horseback riding, arts and crafts, and archery, to name a few—and transportation to and from the Indiana Township site.

Camp Falcon: This overnight camp has been offering two, four, six and eight-week sessions for campers of all ages for 60 years. The camp prides itself on teaching self-confidence and self-discovery through dozens of athletic, creative and outdoor activities, such as tennis, drama and canoeing.

Looking for a local camp tailored to your child’s interests?

Katie’s Clay:

Penn State Beaver: The campus in Center Township offers more than 19 arts, STEM and sports camps for kids ages 7 to 18. This year’s lineup includes: Kids Learn to Cook, Intergalactic Academy, Crime Scene Investigation, Coding, Robotics and the ever-popular Wizardry School. All sports camps are taught by the campus’ coaches and athletes.

Act One Theatre School: Explore the world of theatre and create memories and friends to last a lifetime.

In Tune With the Arts: Harmonix and Beatz a cappella camp is back July 22-26.