Middle school students experience college life through FSU Social Work summer camp

Relay races on Landis Green and jam sessions in the William Johnston Building are just a couple of the experiences dozens of middle school students from Tallahassee and the surrounding area participated in during a weeklong camp at Florida State University.

For the eighth year in a row, the FSU College of Social Work hosted its annual Arts and Athletics Summer Camp for two weeks in June.

The camp aims to foster positive youth development and give a glimpse of college life to middle school students, many of whom come from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Sean Williams, incoming president of the FSU Veterans Student Union, pairs up with camper for three legged race. (FSU Photo/Bruce Palmer)

“This camp is all about exposing students who are deemed ‘at risk’ to college life,” said FSU Graduate Student and Camp Director Virginia Scott. “Because they are ‘at risk’ a lot of them aren’t exposed to college and don’t really see college as an option for them. So, this camp is tailored toward getting them excited about higher education and the opportunities college has.”

The camp was started by Dean Emeritus Nick Mazza, who wanted to combine art and athletics to serve as a vehicle to teach leadership development, enhance academic achievement and improve socialization to underserved middle school students.

This year campers got to hang out with members of the FSU Veterans Student Union, who participated in obstacle courses, three-legged races and even helped campers over a 7-foot wall.

FSU student and Army ROTC Cadet Aaliyah Abarzua talks with campers about the importance of teamwork. (FSU Photo/Bruce Palmer)

“We tried to show you guys the importance of teamwork today,” said FSU student and Army ROTC Cadet Aaliyah Abarzua. “You have to work together to reach the end of the race. That’s what all our branches do, we work together. It’s all about teamwork, loyalty, respect and leadership.”

After running off some energy with FSU’s student veterans, campers continued to foster that spirit of collaboration during a music therapy session with staff from Capital City Music Therapy.

They excitedly pounded away on African drums and shook tambourines making their own beautiful music. Campers even had a chance to become songwriters using their collective thoughts and voices to remix a popular radio hit.

Unique opportunities such as these are what keep rising seventh-grader Trey Card excited about coming back to the Arts and Athletics camp.

Camper Trey Card enjoying the music therapy session. (FSU Photo/Bruce Palmer)

“This is my most favorite camp that I’ve ever done,” Card said. “There’s something different every day. It inspires me, because I’m exposed to new things. It’s so fun.”

In his two years at the camp, Card said he has learned to pay attention to everything that takes place, because you never know when you’ll be inspired by something you experience.

Scott said it is those light bulb moments of inspiration that make her work with the campers truly gratifying.

“For many, this camp is the one time they get to interact with real college students and get to see the impact that college has made in their lives,” Scott said. “We try to get them to have that light bulb moment and say ‘Oh my gosh, I can go to college for free.’ A lot of them don’t have that in their mind until they come to camp.”

Camp participation does require an application but is provided to campers and their families at no charge. To learn more about the FSU Arts and Athletics camp, visit https://csw.fsu.edu/service/csw-arts-athletics-camp.