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Camp Appalachia teaches history, skills

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Creating masks out of gpurds is one of many activities for students who attended UNG's Camp Appalachia.

Camp Appalachia, held June 15-19 at the University of North Georgia (UNG), culminated with a living-history inspired "museum," with exhibits like gravestone rubbings and gourd masks that campers prepared throughout the week. Parents, families and community members toured the museum housed in the 1830s-era log cabin at UNG's historic Vickery House and clapped along as children enjoyed a "circle dance" to the strains of traditional tunes played by local musicians.

UNG's first academic summer camp specifically for gifted children, Camp Appalachia provided fun and education for the students while also creating a unique learning experience for the university's teacher education students.

"The whole process has been incredibly intriguing from the start, just being able to plan with our professors and collaborate from start to finish about what we envisioned for this camp and what we hoped to accomplish with the students," said Brenna Lee, one of the three UNG students who served as a lead camp instructor. "It's been incredible to see those plans unfold and to work hands-on with the students and mold those big goals and ideas to what students needed in that moment."

Lee, from Suwanee, is pursuing a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and endorsements in reading, gifted education and English for speakers of other languages.

Held on the university's Dahlonega Campus, Camp Appalachia was a collaboration between the UNG Appalachian Studies Center and the gifted endorsement program, both units of the university's College of Education. One of few summer offerings for gifted students in the region, the camp was attended by rising fourth- through sixth-graders who were challenged to explore life in 19th century north Georgia through creativity, problem-solving and inquiry. They learned regional history and skills like jam-making and seed-saving from highly skilled masters of Appalachian arts and culture.

UNG undergraduate and graduate students who provided instruction during the camp are pursuing a gifted endorsement, which requires 50 hours of field experience with gifted children.

Brittany Bronson of Dahlonega, a fourth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary in Dawsonville, is working on a master's degree in early childhood education and a gifted endorsement. She helped with activities related to 19th century Appalachian homesteads.

"I really love Camp Appalachia because it challenges them and provides hands-on learning that they don't get in a normal public-school setting. I really like what they have done here with the campers — they've really challenged them and let them be who they are," Bronson said. "I'm from this area, so just to see kids learn hands-on about our history and culture is amazing, and they have been so great to work with."

Dr. Sarah Widincamp, assistant professor of middle grades education at UNG and camp director, called the camp a success in its first year.

"It has been an incredible experience. We thought it would be really fun and good for the students, but it's been even better and a lot of that is because of your kids, who have been so energetic and so inquisitive," Widincamp told parents on the final day of the camp.

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