The National Football League Players Association has agreed to donate $900,000 and take over funding responsibility for a popular year-round camp program for D.C. public school students that was going to close because of the city's school budget crisis.
Camp Round Meadow, in Catoctin Mountain Park near Camp David, had operated earlier with federal monies appropriated for desegregation programs. The school system had used the camp as a means of bringing together black and white students from different economic backgrounds and sections of the city.
But this year those federal funds were not available, and the school system would have had to fund the program with its own money. The Players Association, the union for professional football players, has taken over the camp and will run it as part of its Unions for Youth camp programs, which also operates in several other states.
Students who attended Round Meadow in the past got instruction in geology, ecology and anthropology. This portion of the program will remain much the same, according to George Thorne, the new director of the camp. But the players association has expanded the program to include career education guidance.
The week-long camp program will be for junior high school students between 14 and 16 years old, instead of sixth-graders who previously attended. But the same number of city students -- 2,500 -- will pass through the rural camp each year. The first group is scheduled to begin its week of activities at the camp today.
Only students who meet the poverty guidelines of the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) are eligible to attend.
At the camp, students will receive training in how to write a resume, look for a job, fill out an application and conduct themselves during interviews. They also will have a chance to talk with representatives of various career fields.
"We are trying to give kids, in a camp setting, a chance to dream and live in a micro society," said John Macik, the players association's director of community services. The students will be expected to form and elect their own government at the camp and set up a bank and a newspaper, learning in the process about voting, setting up and using back accounts and the importance of being informed. The youngsters also will be counseled on the dangers of drug abuse.
They will be visited by players in the National Football League. Thorne said. "The athletes will talk about the realities of professional athletics. So often the youths only see the glamorous side, the money-making side of professional athletics," Thorne said.
The players association already runs 10 summer camps and one other year-round camp similar to Round Meadow. But the D.C. program is the only one with a heavy emphasis on natural science instruction.
Over the years, the camp became increasingly popular among teachers, parents and school principals.For many of the students, it marked their first time at a camp -- and their first time out of the city.