Downtown Day Camp branches out

BY Michael Mandelkern

As elementary school children graduate and outgrow the Downtown Day Camp, the 19-year-old Tribeca summer camp is opening its doors exclusively to 5th grade and junior high school students.

Campers in the senior division, held at P.S./I.S. 89, could spend their summer at the traditional General Camp or explore the Sports Camp, Performing Arts Camp and Belleayre Mountain Camp; the four programs and the campsite in P.S. 234 for elementary school children are collectively now part of the new Downtown Day Camp’s organization.

Most have registered to the General Camp, which is available in three, four and seven-week sessions. Children can swim in the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center’s pool, do arts and crafts and play sports on the fields of Pier 40 and the B.P.C. Ballfields much like the P.S. 234 group.

Unlike the younger camp, however, the pre-teens have 90 minutes to choose their own activities and “will be more involved in running the camp on a day-to-day basis to develop team building and leadership skills” by setting up decorations and contributing to morning warm-ups, said Joanne Morgenthal, D.D.C.’s Senior Division program director.

Dr. Russ Schulman, who received his Ph. D in Education from New York University, is director of the Downtown Day Camps and the kindergarten through fourth grade program director. The two collaborate throughout the year-round planning process.

Athletics have always been a part of D.D.C., but the new Sports Camp offers two weeks of extensive training in early July and early August.

Dan Negro, D.D.C.’s Senior Division athletic director and Borough of Manhattan Community College varsity men’s basketball coach, will lead basketball, volleyball and soccer drills and development.

“Sports will be much more structured [than the General Camp] and kids will get a real understanding of the game itself with exposure to new sports,” said Morgenthal, emphasizing that the program is not fastened on generating professional athletes.

Bob Townley, executive director of the Manhattan Youth Community Center, will be the on-site director of the one-week Belleayre Mountain Camp upstate in the end of July. Campers will experience nature through hiking, fishing, visiting farms, woodworking and swimming in a lake.

“There will be unusual and interesting activities and they will make lifetime friends,” he said.

According to Townley, a day in the mountains is not rigid; it could start with a six-hour hike followed by a dip in the beach then building a teepee in the evening.

The campsite will keep to city activities as well, such as arts and crafts and a game room.

“This is not a factory camp program. It’s a small, intimate environment geared for kids that haven’t been away from home,” said Townley.

Townley hosted a trip to Belleayre last summer and is considering continuing the camp into the future.

“This is a big selling point. Everybody loved it,” said Schulman.

The more artistically inclined could apply to the Performing Arts Camp, a two-week session in mid-July.

The program will be hosted by TADA!, a theater company that instructs children ranging from six to 14-years-old.

Music and choreography directors conduct vocal and dance warm-ups to start the day and allow children to brainstorm script ideas for their end-of-session concluding 30-minute performance.

The choreography director will focus on dance steps and stage positioning while the music director helps them select and memorize supporting songs.

Rod Christensen, Director of Education at TADA!, said the music will truly enhance their voices “without so much reliance on [pop music] technology.”

The last three hours is spent teaching children about basic teacher design, color and lighting scheme, prop building and outdoor theater games. “It’s natural that some will gravitate towards the technical aspect,” said Christensen.

“[TADA!] isn’t interested in creating the next star on Broadway. Given the age and that it’s their choice, it really empowers the kids. It gives them a chance to develop skills with their own time and have a creative, fun experience.”

Schulman and TADA! worked together throughout the year to finalize a schedule for the program.

Morgenthal said she is “very happy” with the new camp’s numbers, with some space still available. She said those who have spent years at P.S. 234’s camp would get comfortable at the new location across the Westside Highway.

“Transition for kids is tough for about 10 minutes,” said Morgenthal.