Dozens of children at Southwest Preparatory — Seguin Elementary spent the week-end in tents, making s’mores and writing letters to their parents—all while still in the classroom.

As part of National School Choice Week, students in pre-K through second grade at the campus participated in the second annual “Camp Write-A-Lot”—a three-day whirlwind of activities to help make students stronger writers through experience.

“Camp Write-A-Lot aims to create authentic learning and writing through play,” kindergarten teacher Melinda Barth said. “At this school, we really try to capture hearts and minds and build relationships with students.”

Starting Wednesday, the younger students at Seguin Elementary rotated between classrooms, each with a unique activity centered around a camping theme. The activities included writing ghost stories, pitching tents, making s’mores and using gumdrops and toothpicks to create hibernation dens for gummy bears.

Each activity also included a writing component, such as jotting down your unique recipe for a s’more—which could be revised later to improve a child’s creation. This approach falls in line with the school’s mission to teach through doing, instead of simply writing at a desk.

“We think differently,” Barth said. “Not all kids learn the same way and this event gets kids excited about writing. First and foremost, we develop social skills. Students here learn what it means to be a good citizen. Young people need the tools to be leaders of tomorrow.”

To assist the teachers running Camp Write-A-Lot, several older students volunteered their assistance as aides, such as fetching materials for s’mores or monitoring student behavior in the classroom tents.

“I think it’s fun,” fourth-grader Jake Roman, who assisted with the s’mores, said. “I like helping younger kids and I think it’s cool for the younger kids to have the help of an older role model they can look up to.”

While moving from classroom to classroom, most students wore golden, fleece scarves — gifts from the National School Choice Week organization. Started in 2011, National School Choice week is held every January to celebrate and raise awareness for all K-12 education options, including public schools, charter schools, private schools, magnet schools, online academies and homeschooling.

“This camp shows kids education can be fun and in my opinion, that’s the best part about being a school of choice,” principal April Shelnutt said. “From what I’ve seen, some children really struggle in a traditional school setting. Sometimes there are too many students and teachers don’t have the luxury of forming those one-on-one relationships.”

Southwest Preparatory School’s Seguin campus has a current enrollment of 209 students in grades pre-K through seventh. Although located in Seguin, students come from Wilson, Hays and Comal counties as well, with some coming as far as Canyon Lake, Shelnutt said. Class sizes are about 16 students on average, with the largest class constituting 20 students. Enrollment is distributed mostly even across grade levels, but Pre-K through second grade make up the majority of the student body, Shelnutt said.

Despite being a small campus, Seguin Elementary has made strides in the two years since its opening to offer not just a personalized elementary education but a classic middle school experience as well. Older students currently have access to after-school clubs, choir, tennis, student government, yearbook and student media. The school has plans to expand and offer career technical education and band in the future.

“We currently have plans to add two more classrooms and hopefully, another two after that,” Shelnutt said. “As part of our five-year strategic plan, we are weighing several other expansion options, such as founding an early college high school and adding more grades as time goes on. We’ve held town hall meetings with parents and they really want their kids to stay here if they can.”

The school bases its education model after educator Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”—which guides education through understanding different perspectives and forming key habits, such as being proactive, finding mutually beneficial solutions among peers and continuously improving one’s self through what Covey called “sharpening the saw.”

“We are a preparatory school, but we don’t just prepare for college,” Barth said. “We want to prepare students for careers too. Maybe someday they’ll remember Camp Write-A-Lot and how much fun they had and that impact could persuade them to become a park ranger or work for their city’s parks and rec department. This really is an adventure.”

 

Zach Ienatsch is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. He can be contacted by e-mail at zach.ienatsch@seguingazette.com.

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