By Jacquinette D. Murphy
NDG Special Contribnutor
The looming COVID-19 global pandemic and the necessity of social distancing did not stop Learners are Leaders, Inc., a non-profit based in Cedar Hill and founded by Brandy Jones-West, Ph.D., from hosting their second Summer Leadership Camp. West and her team pivoted the in-person camp enrichment program model to host a virtual experience for fifteen youth ages 9-13 years old.
The programs developed by the camp are dedicated to lessening the summer slide by offering engaging projects and activities centered around a 5-point focus on social justice, academic enrichment, movement, leadership, and social/emotional learning.
As a former classroom teacher who also held several roles as a K-12 administrator, Jones-West is currently a clinical professor in the Teaching and Learning Department at Sam Houston State University, LL Inc. She shared the necessity of enrichment programs like Leaders are Learners, Inc, that develop out-of-school academic-based programs dedicated to helping youth bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world.
“As a teacher, I noticed that there were a lot of lessons students was not receiving from the curriculum, such as leadership and soft skills. These are skills that I feel students still need to be successful,” said Jones-West as she shared the vision and inspiration for the camp. “I am really into experiential learning, field trips that get children out of their houses, schools, and neighborhoods to do and learn new things. You do not know how big the world is until you get out there and experience it.”
For three weeks, the young campers learned online together with certified teachers, engaged in several, skill-building activities and contests for three hours per day. Then, they worked independently to complete academic enrichment projects, to research and practice for two culminating camp contests, the camp spelling bee, and the culminating poetry oratorical presentations.
According to West and the camp attendees, one of the most memorable components of the camp included a book study and leadership discussion on the Clinton Twelve, a nonfiction story about 12 African-American students who integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee in 1956.
Themed the Promise of Change, the youth took a virtual walk through the pages of African American history during the final poetry oratorical contest, as the campers presented their research and knowledge gained about leaders and changemakers that helped to reshape society, such as the Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen, The Little Rock Nine, Clara Ward, The Jim Crow Laws, Brown vs. The Board of Education and others.
The top three presentations selected by the judges based on research, visuals and presentation tone, were as follows: Kaiden Stewart West – First Place (118 points) for his The Little Rock Nine presentation, Brenyae West – Second Place (117 points) for her presentation on Brown vs. The Board of Education and Jasmine Simpson – Third Place (110 points) for her presentation on The Jim Crow Laws. These winners received cash awards sponsored by the North Dallas Gazette of $100, $50, and $25, respectively.
Jones-West shared that she was impressed by the participation and preparation of the students and glad that did not cancel this year’s learning excursion. An opportunity for which Simpson and the camp attendees made plain that they were grateful to have.
“It allowed me to learn in a different way. This is new to all of us because we are used to doing this in-person and now we are doing it all online,” she said as she and the other campers gave two thumbs to state their satisfaction for the camp content, its organizers, and to the new friends that they made.
The campers also participated in the Dallas City of Learning (DCOL), an education initiative and online platform sponsored in part by Big Thought and designed to help students discover new interests, develop skills, and earn recognition for learning achievements.
Learn more about this organization and its out-of-school programs via its website leadersinc.org.