Facts and fun: College students mentor hundreds of campers at Georgia College Kids’ University

Facts and fun: College students mentor hundreds of campers at Georgia College Kids’ University

I t’s a rowdy, loud gathering. Bodies swaying, feet tapping as a dozen college counselors hand out stickers and lead the familiar camp song: “Kids’ University, where we learn and swim and play. Kids’ University where we have fun all day…”

The campers in this group, K-6 graders, raise their hands, showing their fingers for a five-fingered contract. They solemnly recite:

I will be safe.
I will be committed.
I will be respectful.
I will be responsible.
I will be my best.

Welcome to Kids’ University (Kids’ U) at Georgia College.

This summer, more than 400 youngsters got to be explorers, scavengers, actors and scientists during nine weeks of camp. They learned a little of just about everything—from the great outdoors and cultures around the world to hometown heroes and creepy crawlies.

It’s fun for campers and for the college students who mentor them.

“It’s really a great opportunity and a great experience to spend time with children and to see their personalities shine, to see their growth,” said junior Stelios Spirou of Milledgeville.

A political science major, Spirou brought a little of his own expertise to camp this summer. He taught about the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and freedom. He enjoyed his time guiding tomorrow’s leaders.

Junior Stelios Spirou helps campers with the microscopes.
Junior Stelios Spirou helps campers with the microscopes.
“The kids are all very interesting, and they’re excited to learn and have fun,” Spirou said. “This will totally help me in my future. Being a counselor will help me understand kids in general, and it gives me a small view of the educational system in our country.”

During bug week, a classroom at West Campus was filled with microscopes and mounds of arts-n-crafts material—glitter, glue, scissors, paints, pipe cleaners, markers, crayons. There were books about bugs, glass vials of dead bugs and tubs of dirty, rotten logs filled with—you guessed it—more bugs.

Screams of “Yuck,” “Ew” or “Wow” filled the air as campers used tweezers and fingers to pull giant beetles and larvae from rotted logs. One group even found a small scorpion that was safely collected by counselors and put on display for all to see.

They went on hikes to explore bugs and nature. Campers learned about the lifecycle of bugs, drew bugs, painted bugs and built bugs. Each day included time in the pool, a reading period, games and special activities. Each week ended with a celebration, so campers could show off what they learned to their parents.

Kids learned about all types of creepy crawlies at camp recently.
Kids learned about all types of creepy crawlies at camp recently.

"Kids' U counselors offer the youth of Baldwin County creative, fun and exploratory learning opportunities in a welcoming camp environment,” said Nancy Finney, director of Kids’ U and program coordinator for the department of Continuing and Professional Education, which is part of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SoCPS).

“Kids' U also provides counselors an opportunity to apply hands-on learning and leadership skills,” she said. “Working at Kids' University gives Georgia College students a chance to learn about their strengths and become more self-aware as they prepare to graduate. Leading a summer camp and group of kids helps them lead meetings down the road and, for our future teachers, it helps them acquire the skills they’ll need before joining the workforce.”

Ani Posey (center right) leads the group.
Ani Posey (center right) leads the group.
Alumna Ani Posey, ’18, got her degree in special education at Georgia College. She’s been teaching at Midway Hills Primary and other Georgia public schools the past few years. This summer, she was assistant director of Kids’ U and prepared curriculum for campers. She also guided Georgia College students as counselors.

“I love how this summer we’ve really gotten to integrate some different themes into our curriculum every day,” Posey said. “We have electives where counselors get to collaborate and work with an activity of their own special interest.”

Bringing in outdoor education and project-based learning add so much value to everything we do. Some kids, despite nature being all around us, haven’t had that opportunity to sit and stare at an ant or watch a spider build its web. We give kids and counselors time to grapple with things.
– Ani Posey

Fifth grader Caleb Kitchens (right) examines a bug.
Fifth grader Caleb Kitchens (right) examines a bug.
Caleb Kitchens, 10, is going into 5th grade in Milledgeville. Using tweezers to pull a big, slimy white beetle larva from a log, he exclaimed with a big smile, “I’m coming to these camps because they’re a whole lot of fun. We do all types of activities, fun games, and you get to make really good friends here.”

Ruth Eilers, ’02, ’16, is director of Academic Outreach, which operates under SoCPS. She enjoyed Kids’ U as a guest speaker and a parent. Her 9-year-old son, Ben, was enrolled. She enthralled youngsters with bug facts as she passed around glass vials of dragonflies, praying mantises, mosquitos, bees, beetles and other insects.

She had two college students working with her: a recent environmental science graduate, Nicole Wright, and sophomore Jackson Taylor, who’s majoring in special education.

“If you can handle a group of 2nd graders,” Eilers said. “You can handle most anything that comes at you. Students learn group management skills—understanding how to keep a group engaged and when it’s time to move on.”

“Knowing those subtle things makes them much better at their jobs,” she said, “no matter what they end up doing in the future.”

Graduate student Diondra Franklin (left) loved the kids' curiosity and energy.
Graduate student Diondra Franklin (left) loved the kids' curiosity and energy.
Diondra Franklin of Carrollton, Georgia, agrees. She got her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Georgia College in 2021. Now, she’s working on her Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT).

Her duties are to make sure kids are engaged with the outdoors and each other. Her favorite part is the hour of classroom instruction they give campers each day. She loves to lead question-and-answer sessions—even when her campers’ questions are more than she can answer.

This allows them to embark “on a wonderful expedition” of finding the answers together.
It’s a perfect way for Franklin to practice her teaching skills, while also engaging youth in conversations about college.

“If I can have my kids walk away from here and know that there’s something more out there,” she said, “then I feel like I’ve done my job.”

This gave me exposure to the younger groups. I’ll tell anyone, if you’re unsure you want to be in the teaching field, then work at a summer camp.
– Diondra Franklin