The last breezes of summer may be blowing out, but for the children who attended the francophone summer camp this year, their language skills are staying strong.
Fifteen children and youth gathered for bilingual camp during the weekdays from July 2 to Aug. 21.
The camp was supported by Ecole Boreale and the Association franco-culturelle de Hay River, and operated by Klaudia Mika, Philippe Beaupre and Finno Celestin.
Beaupre said that many students at Ecole Boreale will see a decline in their French-language skills by the end of summer, after speaking mainly English at home for two months.
For these campers, that is not the case.
“They are doing sports and playing, and using French,” said Beaupre. “So they come back with a more diverse understanding of the language.”
In past summers, the focus of the camp has been on crafts and quieter activities. This summer, the staff decided to try something different. Since most of the attendees were boys, they tailored a sports-focused program which included judo four times per week, as well as soccer, football, handball and other games.
“We each brought our own flavour,” explained Celestin. “Philippe’s main thing was the judo, Klaudia was our person for getting out there and making things happen, and I took care of the other sports and games. It worked really well, and we worked off of each other’s ideas.”
The staff planned other activities including Lego contests, sleepovers and movie nights, and visits to the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) and Nerf gun wars.
“The community has really supported us this year,” said Mika. “Rowe’s let us use the cinema, NFTI invited us to visit and the fire hall let us have a tour.”
Spencer Tweedie-Pitre was one of the young people at the camp.
The things that stuck in his mind from the summer were building a Jurassic Park Lego structure and having a Nerf war.
His mother, Jennifer Tweedie, said Spencer has retained his French throughout the summer, thanks to the camp.
“As a parent, I am super pleased,” she said. “Each morning he was very eager to go. For a kid to get up and get going on their own in summer, that speaks volumes.”
The camp is also open to children without command of the French language. Beaupre said five or six of the campers this year were strictly anglophone, but that some of the francophone youth were happy to help translate and tutor.
“It’s not about being French or English,” said Celestin. “You want to come and have some franco fun? Come, play, have fun, and in between you might pick up a bit of French.”
Keeping 15 young people engaged in active play for eight hours a day is exhausting, according to the staff.
“It is a good tired,” said Celestin. “It’s so much fun, but then you go home and take a nap just about every day.”
“It’s a meaningful tiredness,” added Beaupre.
The staff will continue with the sports programming next summer, as both the boys and the girls enrolled really enjoyed the activities.
“It was a pilot program, and it went really well,” said Beaupre.