Preparations are underway for our third annual St. Luke’s Music Camp, which will be held from Monday, July 10th through Friday, July 14th. As most of you know, our camp offers children the opportunity to learn about music history, culture, and composition. They sing, study some of the great composers and periods of music history, and explore cultures from around the globe. Campers develop rhythmic ability on Orff instruments and are introduced to basic concepts in music theory. They become more aware of themselves, their communities, and the music at hand by participating in various art and mindfulness projects. In a follow-up essay to this one – which we plan to publish in the next week – you’ll find details about this year’s thrilling theme and structure. Stay tuned for that! But for now we wanted to share some details about this year’s focus on accessibility.
In “The Families that Can’t Afford Summer,” KJ Dell’Antonia asserts that only 7% of Michigan families fits the traditional stereotype, and that 35% are single-parent led. Students have a 10- to 11-week break each summer, yet only a quarter of American families are able to have one parent home. This means that three-quarters of American families have to find care for 440 hours per child. Because of the impossibility of meeting such an expense, many parents are forced to leave children home alone. In one of far too many examples, a South Carolina mom was sent to jail for leaving her 9-year-old to play in a park while she worked.
According to the Michigan Wage Calculator created by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a single parent working full-time for minimum wage earns $17,680. For that parent to meet the full living expenses for her/himself and two children (housing, healthcare, nutritious food, childcare, transportation, et cetera) s/he would need to earn $56,693: more than three times our minimum wage. Additionally, the average American one-week day camp costs $304, which is only $34 short of a full week of minimum wage page. This clearly means that for many, camp is not an option.
Additional barriers for summer camp access include the fact that most summer day camps run either in the morning or the afternoon, while most full time jobs require employees to be present for nine consecutive hours with the exception of a lunch break. Families without a stay-at-home parent often simply cannot coordinate mid-day pick-ups and drop-offs. And many families rely solely on public transportation, which makes three hour camps a logistical impossibility.
Also disconcerting is the impact of inconsistent summer care over academic achievement. Dell’Antonia contends that while “most kids lose math skills over the summer…low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. She concludes that this regression accounts for nearly “half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”
Finally, a disproportionate number of families living in poverty have experienced trauma, which is itself a barrier to both enjoyment and education. Across Kalamazoo, programs that help children deal with trauma have waiting lists. Trauma and ongoing toxic stress interferes with a child’s ability to pay attention, complete tasks, and learn new skills, which adversely affects their social and emotional well-being. Recent discoveries in neuroscience demonstrate that repeated childhood trauma (or adverse childhood experiences) can disrupt brain development and effect changes both at the biological and psychological level.
In more heartening news, however, a study from Frontiers in Psychology reports that “The directed use of music and music therapy is highly effective in developing coping strategies, including understanding and expressing feelings of anxiety and helplessness, supporting feelings of self-confidence and security, and providing a safe or neutral environment for relaxation.” In this manner, music heals and helps individuals reach their wellness goals. Over the past decade, music therapy has emerged as a creative art form that has been used to address stress and coping with survivors of trauma. And the American Music Therapy Association identifies some of the benefits of music therapy treatment in cases of traumatic incidents, which include anxiety and stress reduction, positive changes in mood and emotional states, enhanced feelings of control, confidence, and empowerment. Engaging creatively with music can also lead to positive physiological changes, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rate, relaxed muscle tension, and improved emotional intimacy with peers, families, and caregivers.
Through our partnership with the YWCA, the 2017 St. Luke’s Music Camp will offer opportunities to engage in art and music in ways that are specifically designed for trauma mitigation. Children will make drums to take home, which will help them alleviate aggression in a healthy manner. They will sing songs together, helping them understand their importance in a community of voices. They will learn breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that they can take with them after camp ends. They will create art and be encouraged to trust their creative impulses. And they will learn history lessons about people from around the globe who have known difficult times and have used music to not only survive, but to thrive. Additionally, we will set up “comfort spaces” in each educational area – spaces where children can recede to feel safer without having to leave the learning site altogether – and the YWCA will offer training to all staff and volunteers to prepare us for the work of facilitating education for those who have faced trauma.
These new measures will allow us to expand access to our rich and meaningful camp. Moreover, including kids who are living in poverty and with trauma will benefit children with more stable and secure home lives as well. Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia write that “students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.” Additionally, researchers out of Queens University, Charlotte assert that “Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them. This promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions.”
Our collaboration with the YWCA has helped us meet the needs of low-income families by creating trust for our program with mothers in-residence at the shelter; helping us to plan and implement full-day wraparound care to make for A FULL WEEK of free childcare and no mid-day pick-up and drop-off needs; and offering transportation for YWCA folks to and from St. Luke’s. The YWCA is donating the trauma-mitigation training sessions, and lending us two full-time, experienced staffers for the week.
The biggest hurtle we therefore now face is expense. In the past, music camp has been free of charge to all children. However, running the camp was not free. Donations were used to purchase instruments, musical resources, art supplies, and snacks; to hire an accompanist and several guest lecturers; to provide T-shirts for all children and team leaders; and to host an end-of-program ice-cream social. This year, our proposed expansion in numbers and collaboration with the YWCA led to the decision to ask for a fee of $125 per child for families for whom this is not a burden.
This is low compared to the average summer camp in Kalamazoo. Additionally, families can take advantage of the wrap-around care and lunch, easing or eliminating childcare costs for the week. Finally, scholarships are available to anyone who desires to attend but cannot afford the suggested fee. Our camp is a space where children grow intellectually, artistically, musically, emotionally, and socially. We want all of the children of Kalamazoo to know that they deserve such a rich education. We could make this happen this year if only 50% of families were able to pay, and if we continued to secure the generous level of donations from the congregation that we have in the past.
We have additionally applied for two grants: one from the Gilmore Foundation and one from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. Through that process, we learned that the ability to demonstrate strong internal funding support is necessary for securing grants, which is another reason we’re asking for a fee from those who can afford one, as a fee this year will make grants more likely next year. We anticipate that grants will eventually be our main source of funding.
Funding this camp will allow us to practice “spirituality in action.” Music Camp offers a one-of-a-kind ministry to community children and benefits Kalamazoo-area parents, who can take advantage of our wrap-around care. Our parish kids will get an even richer educational experience because of the diversity of their fellow campers. And it makes it possible for us to restore and deepen into our rich parish history of offering music education to children.
Thank you for supporting us in this community endeavor. We remain, as ever, grateful to serve Kalamazoo alongside you.
Yours in Christ,
Renee & Carrie