“Adventures in Leadership,” Market Economy Madness,” “Exploring Careers,” and “Creative Cartooning” are just four of the many classes offered to those participating in one of three OWjL (Ohio Wesleyan/Junior League of Columbus) summer camp weeklong sessions at Ohio Wesleyan starting June 10 through June 29. Nearly 550 talented and gifted sixth-, seventh-, and eighth- grade students, nominated by principals, guidance counselors, or teachers from schools in Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, and Union counties, were invited to attend OWjL Camp. These students all have earned high test scores and demonstrated exceptional talent, creativity, or leadership skills. Segmented by grades, the first and third sessions held June 10-15 and June 24-29 included grades six and seven, and June 17-22 was open for grades seven and eight.
OWjL teachers are university professors, national board-certified secondary school teachers, teachers of gifted and talented students, and other experts in their fields. Counselors often are OWU students, recent graduates, and former OWjL campers. OWjL Executive Director Susan Paxton explains that the goal of the camp is more than just taking classes.
“These kids are capable of thinking outside the box,” she says. “We want them to know it’s OK to be smart, and that they can meet people like them [at camp].” The OWjL program was developed and founded by the Junior League after a two-year study that determined gifted and talented middle school students were under served with programs promoting discovery and skill development for problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, research, leadership, and communication.
“The best thing about the OWjL program, besides awesome classes and counselors, is the friendships campers form here that will last for a lifetime for some,” says Paxton, adding that “most importantly, they find a support group of their peers who are smart, funny, creative, and make them feel they belong.” In addition, the OWjL program also brings students to a college campus, which in itself, is quite an experience.
“This is my fifth year as a counselor with OWjL,” says Lauren Spavelko ’12, a former camper throughout her middle school years. One of her favorite parts of camp is Family Group, when campers (eight to ten in each group) and counselors come together daily to talk about camp classes but also anything else going on in the students’ lives.
“We talk about things like bullying, developing positive self images, and what it means to be gifted,” says Spavelko, a music education major at OWU, whose three years as an OWjL camper inspired her to continue as a counselor. For another counselor, Zach Paull ’15, Family Group time also offers students experience in asking good questions and thinking abstractly at times.
“It also is great for them to experience a slice of college life,” he says. Paull is a history major and education minor who hopes to teach high school integrated social studies, and thinks the OWjL counseling staff and programming are amazing and “a good opportunity to get the University’s name out there.” It’s not uncommon for former campers like Spavelko to eventually become a Bishop.
“One of the reasons I applied to OWU was because of how much I liked OWjL camp,” she says. “Now that I’m an alumna, I want to keep coming back to help until I’m too old!”