Summer music camp: a time for enriched learning

In this era of test-driven accountability, school can feel like a pressure cooker. The demand for measurable results can dominate every second of the day—often at the expense of young learners exploring their interests, discovering their gifts, and enjoying the pure pleasure of learning.

Summer vacation is more important than ever as a time to recover and relax—and as a time for joyful learning. I’m happy to say that 90 local 10- to 15-year-olds will spend a week this month at the Heights Summer Music Camp, a community-run enrichment opportunity sponsored by Reaching Heights. I direct the camp and helped found it. It’s something I want to brag about because it is a unique music experience and an example of how our community nurtures our youth.

Nine years ago, two inspiring and adventurous elementary music teachers, Tamar Gray and Betsy Neylon, along with Fred Mayer, who was then the director of the Heights High School Orchestra, met me at Brennan’s Colony to map out a music enrichment experience for Heights youth. For many years Mayer had directed a month-long camp at the Music School Settlement, but by 2004 summertime opportunities had shrunk. Both the Settlement and the school district had ended their summer camps. We needed to do something. We had the talent, ideas, and the can-do attitude to make it work.

The Heights Summer Music Camp is an unusual music-education experience in that it was organized by a community, not a music institution. Thanks to a partnership with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, Reaching Heights was able to open the camp at Wiley Middle School in 2005. Eight years later, the transformational experience continues.

A hallmark of the camp is that it is homegrown. We make a point of hiring teachers from the school district and other local talent to staff our diverse musical experience. This year, four district music teachers, 11 alumni of the Heights High music program, 20 current students, and five resident music professionals, including a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, will work with campers. The first rehearsal always explodes with applause as campers meet staff members who attended their schools. It makes for a strong family feeling!

The camp fee is kept low, and scholarships for up to a third of the campers make it accessible. Our goal is to include any 10- to 15-year-old district resident who participates in his or her elementary and middle school instrumental music program and wants to grow as a musician.

The Heights Summer Music Camp is an intergenerational community of learners with high standards, high expectations, and a high level of support. It is serious, yet casual and fun. It is demanding and rewarding. Kids push themselves and grow in ways they never imagined they could. 

Cleveland Heights High School’s music program is populated with camp alumni. The camp builds fundamentals that help children excel in all aspects of school and life: focus, collaboration, determination, and effort. Campers are changed forever.

We ask our schools to be all things to all people. The Heights Summer Music Camp exemplifies one way the community can help shoulder the load. We give kids access to enrichment that can stretch them beyond the limits of what a school day—under current conditions—can provide.

I am a Cleveland Heights booster. Our tradition of community activism makes for a place that is interesting and rich in civic capital. We try new things, grapple with hard problems, generate plenty of debate, engage with our public institutions, and create an enriched community life. We draw on our rich human resources to offer opportunities like music camp.  

If you’d like to share our pride in the wonderful young people who are our future, join us at Wiley Middle School on Saturday, June 22, at 10:30 a.m., for a concert that will make your heart soar!

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and former director of Reaching Heights; she serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.

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Volume 6, Issue 6, Posted 1:54 PM, 05.30.2013