Spring break does not mean children have to take a break from learning, thanks to activities planned by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Workforce Development & Social Services.
A spring break camp will take place March 14 through 16 from noon to 5 p.m. at the CPN North Reunion Hall. Students who participate in the CPN Johnson O’Malley program, ages 7 to 18, are eligible to attend, said Sandie Rogers, youth counselor.
“We’d like to invite all the JOM kids to sign up,” she said. “The more, the merrier.”
Signed in 1934, the JOM Act authorized the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Education, to partner with tribes, tribal organizations, states and schools to address the educational needs of Native American and Alaska Native students. JOM programs focus on helping students stay in school and increase their chances of academic success, according to the JOM website.
The spring break camp includes cultural teachings about strawberries and their significance to Indigenous peoples.
“We’re going to share a book about the first strawberries, First Strawberries, a Cherokee Story. All the kids will get a copy of the book,” Rogers said.
Students will bake strawberry-shaped cookies and decorate them using naturally dyed icing and edible paint pens. They will also make a strawberry wreath.
“It’s always about the children accomplishing something and getting to enjoy the reward,” Rogers said.
The time in the kitchen also helps youth gain confidence in their cooking skills and broaden their understanding of healthy nutrition, she added.
Spring break campers will plan a grocery shopping trip. A grocery store, with its endless choices, sometimes overwhelms young people who are new to the experience.
“We are teaching them how to be efficient in the kitchen and how to shop, how to know what to buy. They shop with a list, and then they go home, they cook and they take photographs (of the food). The pictures are just amazing,” Rogers said.
The project often inspires children to continue learning and spending more time in the kitchen, which is the goal.
“Parents will tell me that they can’t get their kids to stay out of the kitchen now. They’re always wanting to have their hands involved. That’s what we want. We want them to learn to be self-sufficient in the kitchen so that they can take care of themselves when they need to,” Rogers said.
According to her, many of their students spend school breaks at home, sometimes caring for younger siblings. The spring break camp helps them acquire skills to safely prepare healthy snacks and meals.
As the children learn their way around kitchen basics, they often try new cooking methods as they get older, Rogers said.
“I have some kids now that like to cook on a grill. I even had one girl cook salmon last summer,” she said.
Rogers is excited when some of the participants try new foods and discover flavors they enjoy.
“We made a dessert pizza at our summer camp, and one of the kids sent in pictures of their pizza that they did over the Christmas break camp,” she said. “That’s what it’s about, is reaching and exploring and finding new ways to enjoy food and having fun with it as well as being confident in the kitchen.”
Ultimately, the camp participants learn, even when the activity seems fun on the surface.
“There’s always the educational element as well. We want them to learn something new,” Rogers said.
The fun will not be limited to the kitchen. The camp hosts activities focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, as well. A report from the National Science Foundation expects these distinct, yet related, areas to drive innovation over the next several years. It also said Native Americans are underrepresented in STEM fields like computer science, mathematics and engineering.
That is why the spring break camp includes time for children to explore their creativity and problem-solving ability.
“STEM is important in everything we do, and I see the importance in the kids realizing the science behind everything we do and use. Our goal is to help the kids get a spark about their heritage and culture,” Rogers said.
This spring, campers will be making catapults, edible slime and constructing a solar system out of fruit, she added.
The spring break camp will also include cultural activities, such as basket weaving, making corn bead necklaces and learning how events like the Trail of Tears affected Indigenous people.
“We are always teaching the kids in a way that they will be educated about what our ancestors did prior to now,” Rogers said. “We talk about using natural plants for painting, medication, making tools and other skills. We are also having a paint day where they will paint a background and use Native American animal stencils to add dimension.”
While the focus is often on Citizen Potawatomi culture, Rogers said they also try to incorporate tribal knowledge from other nations as well. Many of the campers are descended from multiple tribes.
“We try to stay within the tribes that are local, and we try to stay with authors that we know are Native American and share stories that are close to home. We (discuss) more than CPN (traditions). We try to include all the area tribes, including the Absentee Shawnee, Sac & Fox and Kickapoo,” she said.
Parents should not worry their child needs specific skills to participate. Every camper is welcome and will have help for the activities.
“When we work with the kids, we have a variety of ages. They are from 5 on up to 18, and they work together. It’s fun to watch them,” Rogers said.
Often, the older campers act as mentors for the younger children. There are high school students who volunteer as mentors to satisfy honors hours requirements.
“I believe our camps guide the children in a positive aspect in their lives,” Rogers said. “It’s important for them to understand and appreciate their culture and all that their ancestors have given us in our everyday lives.”
Parents should contact Rogers, Peggy Walters or Jamelle Payne to register. Campers must be active clients in the CPN Johnson O’Malley program.