St. Johns County School District - April 2022

The mission of the St. Johns County School District will “inspire good character and a passion for lifelong leaning in all students, creating educated and caring contributors to the world.” This time of the year is filled with celebrations as we begin to see the outcome of hard work and dedication reflected in the lives of our students, faculty and staff. 

As an organization, we are proud to honor students for their high academic achievements, but we also take time to recognize and celebrate students displaying good character. This year more than 100 students will be recognized for their exemplary character at the annual American Youth Character Awards (AYCA) Banquet on April 21. Criteria for the AYCA is based on the Six Pillars of Character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship. These awards recognize students for serving as good role models for their peers. Nominees are evaluated based on the influence of the Six Pillars in their lives, especially as they relate to overcoming obstacles, making difficult choices, generosity, self-sacrifice and community service. All honorees will receive a certificate, pin and school letter. In addition, seniors will receive a $500 award in recognition of their excellent character. Eight additional seniors and one junior will also be honored as Pursuing Victory With Honor nominees for displaying the Six Pillars of Character on the athletic field. The overall winner will be awarded $1,000. I want to congratulate all students on their achievements as well as their families, mentors and community that support these students throughout their high school careers.  

April is National Volunteer Month, affording us a chance to step back and look at the many ways individuals have selflessly supported the SJCSD. During the very challenging times that we have experienced with COVID-19, volunteering has taken on a different look. Volunteers who have been in schools abided by health and safety guidelines and sometimes did work at home that would have historically been done in schools.  School support groups such as PTO and booster clubs continued to do what was necessary but in a safe and different fashion. Although the world changed drastically, volunteers found safe ways to meet student and school needs in surprisingly creative ways. The resolve of our volunteers to continue making a difference only grew stronger during this time, and we want to thank them for “never saying never.” As we go forward in a cautiously optimistic future, it is certain that volunteers will always be needed and appreciated. If you would like to explore ways to assist in St. Johns County schools, please contact Cheryl Freeman, RSVP/Volunteer Services Coordinator at (904) 547-3952 or Cheryl.Freeman@stjohns.k12.fl.us.

Tim Forson
Superintendent of Schools

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How to Handle Head Lice

You pick up your child from school and notice something crawling on top of his or her head. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your heart starts beating fast, and you feel slightly itchy. Meet lice. These wingless parasites do not care who you are, what you do, and contrary to popular myth, how dirty your head is.

If you don’t see active crawling lice but have suspicions, examine the scalp closely with a bright light. Lice eggs or nits show up as a light yellow colored sphere (careful not to confuse with dandruff) attached at the base of the hair in areas behind the ears or at the base of the scalp. They will need to be removed to eliminate the presence of these creepy crawlers.

Should my child be taken out of school if he/she has active lice? 

No. Affected children may return to school once treatment is initiated. However, it is a good idea to remind them to avoid direct head contact with others, which is the primary route of transmission. 

What about swimming? 

Lice can survive for hours underwater but cling tightly to the hair they call home, so risk for transmission in pools is low. As for the rest of the household during an infestation, wash and dry clothing and linens in hot water and high heat. Don’t forget to vacuum furniture and carpeting.

Treatment

First-line medical treatment is topical Pyrethrins and Permethrin-containing shampoos, which can be purchased over the counter. In the case of resistant lice, stronger prescription shampoos containing Ivermectin can be used. These shampoos are generally safe and effective and at most cause a very mild itching or burning sensation in those with hypersensitivity. Of course, run any questions or concerns by your doctor in the event of reaction. Although a one-time treatment of the hair and scalp for 10 minutes is usually sufficient, the Center for Disease Control recommends repeating treatment after seven days to ensure eradication. Removal of lice eggs can be performed at home with a fine-tooth comb or “lice comb” following treatment. 

I recently learned of a more old-fashioned treatment that involves saturating the scalp and hair with olive oil for six to eight hours to suffocate the lice. A lice comb is then run throughout the hair and wiped off with a paper towel to extract lice and nits and repeated until no more appear on the comb. While this technique avoids a possible drug reaction, it is more time-consuming and can take about a week to fully complete. 

Whatever method you use, do not be shy to talk to a trusted doctor, especially if initial treatment fails. Lice are built to weather tough storms (this can be taken literally), yet the good news is that treatment is relatively easy and inexpensive. With knowing what to do and enlisting the proper tools, you’ll be able to keep that stress at least out of your hair.


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Summer Camps With Flair

Most of us remember summer camp. It was great: Rustic cabins, swimming in the lake, arts and crafts, songs around a campfire and capture the flag in the evenings. It still sounds good to me. 

But times have changed and lots of kids are more excited to plan a summer adventure around performance academies than attend a traditional summer camp. There are lots of options, and while they are not inexpensive, they do offer wonderful opportunities for your kids. They can be week-long overnight experiences or day camps only.

Here are some of the possibilities. Check your local area for availability.

Dance and Theater Camps: Dance and theater camps will focus every day on training classes and rehearsals with an eye to a final performance at the end of the camp. Theater offerings may include improvisation, comedy, costume and set design, prop building, sound mixing, filmmaking, musical theater or stage makeup. Many theater camps offer two- or three-week options to maximize the quality of the final performances. Dance camps may begin their day programs with children as young as two years and offer ballet, tap and jazz, hip-hop and modern dance courses ranging in difficulty from beginners to advanced courses. Again, a performance at the end of the course of study is usually the highlight of the camp.

Music Camps: For children interested in advancing their musical skills or for those who just love to sing, there are tons of music camp options. Children may take private lessons from skilled teachers or learn to sing or play in ensembles. They can study band instruments, orchestra instruments or focus on just piano or violin. There are classes in music theory, sight-reading, songwriting or voice. A wide variety of musical experiences are available, from rock and roll to classical. Music camps are great for honing skills or trying something brand new.

Clown/Circus Camps: Get ready for some fun at circus or clown camps. Kids learn such skills as plate-spinning, balloon-twisting, stilt-walking, scarf juggling or riding a unicycle. Or they can learn to be a clown as they create costumes, learn to apply clown makeup and learn the gags and slapstick antics of being a clown. Final performances are the norm here as well.

Art Camps: There are lots of opportunities for kids to delve into art and art-related projects in summer art camps. Many of these are local and offer day courses for children aged five and up. Others are destination camps that integrate art activities with traditional summer camp experiences. Abrakadoodles camps offer process art experiences in which the focus is on what is learned as a piece of art is produced. There may be theme-based art camps as well as a wide variety of art training in such skills as drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics and clay sculpture or origami.

Science/Technology Camps: STEM courses are all the rage today, and well, they should be in this age of technology. Courses in programming, coding, robotics, modeling/animation, video game design and team problem-solving will be available. Often STEM camps are designed around themes such as Minecraft, Legos or Star Wars and offer group challenges. The camps may be offered by your local children’s museums or science centers. Courses in marine science or biological studies may incorporate laboratory experiments, while engineering courses may emphasize inventions. Science, technology, engineering and math—get your kids in on the fun.

Foreign Language Camps: If you aren’t taking a trip out of the country this summer, you might want your kids to have the benefit of a language summer camp. They’ll be immersed in the language, cuisine and culture of another country while at camp. Native speakers will lead the activities as kids learn to sing songs, create skits and play games, all designed to deepen their experience in a foreign language. Many language camps end with a special performance or celebration highlighting the learning accomplished.

Adventure Camps: No time for boredom in these summer camps. Everything from backpacking to rock climbing, wilderness treks to survival hikes, scuba diving to whitewater rafting. What’s your pleasure? Take a look at www.adventurecamp.com. 

Dude Ranches and Horse Camps: Your child will leave city life behind when attending a summer horse camp. Courses on animal care, roping, riding and vaulting will be given along with extended time to build a relationship with a horse, ride and care for it, and experience some of what it’s like to live on and run a ranch. Leadership, nature-based arts and crafts and swimming might round out the offerings.

Sports Camps: We’re familiar with camps to improve skills in basic sports such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer. But there are many other choices. How about gymnastics, archery, water-skiing, horseback riding, tennis, crew, field hockey, volleyball or water polo? This might be an opportunity to try a whole new sporting experience and find a sport to enjoy for life. Check out www.ussportscamps.com.

Miscellaneous Camps:  It’s hard to categorize some of the camping experiences available to kids today. How about Social Skills camp, D.J. camp, Extreme Sports camps, Wizards and Warriors Role Playing camp or Rock and Roll Camp? 

If you’re serious about planning a performance summer camp experience for your kids, do your research early. These camps tend to fill up early, and there are specials on the costs if you apply early.

Here are a few websites to help you with your summer camp research:

www.kidscamps.com

www.summercamps.com

www.mysummercamps.com 

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Questions To Ask Sleepaway Camp Directors

You’ve gone online, asked everyone you know for recommendations, and otherwise searched for sleepaway camps for your kids. How do you find the one that’s just right for them? When you’ve narrowed down the options to a handful or less, it’s time to speak to the camp directors by phone or email. Below is a list of some of the most important questions to ask.

The Camp

Is the camp accredited, how old is it, and how long have you owned or managed it? It’s a good sign if the camp is licensed by the American Camp Association (ACA). To earn accreditation, a camp must satisfy 300 industry standards for health, safety and program quality. Every three years, the ACA visits the camp to verify that it’s in compliance. It’s also a good sign if the camp has been in existence for many years (kids are coming back year after year) and if the director is experienced at running camps.

What’s your philosophy? Camps can be very different. Some camps, especially ones focused on specific sports, can be quite competitive. Other camps are more aimed at instilling in kids certain values, like comradery, cooperation and conflict-resolution. Make sure that the camp’s philosophy matches your own values and that it’s a good fit for your kids. 

What’s the accommodation like? Ask whether the kids sleep in cabins or tents, whether there are bathrooms and showers nearby and, most importantly, whether your kids can request to room with friends from home. Whether your kids are first-time or seasoned campers, it’s always comforting and great fun to room with one or more of their regular friends. 

How much does it cost? You probably don’t need any reminders to ask about the camp fee. But don’t forget to ask whether that fee is all-inclusive or whether there are additional costs for day or overnight trips, transportation to and from camp, special activities, etc. Also, ask if there’s a refund policy should your kids get sick, what the deadline is for registration and, in case you missed the deadline, if there’s a waitlist. It’s also a good idea to ask if financial aid or needs-based scholarships are available, perhaps a sibling discount, whether you need to pay everything up front, or whether you can pay in installments. Finally, don’t forget to get the camp’s Tax ID number. The camp fee can be tax-deductible. 

The Program

How long are the sessions, can they be lengthened or shortened, and how long do most campers stay? Most camps offer sessions of a specific length, often two, four or eight weeks. However, if you have other things planned for the summer, it can be useful to either shorten or lengthen a session to fit your schedule. Most kids like to stay as long as the other kids: assuming they’re having a great time, no kid wants to be the one getting picked up before everyone else. 

What do the kids do on a typical day? Try to get a sense of what your kids will be doing on a typical day, including how much time is devoted to indoor and outdoor activities and what they’ll be doing in the evening. This will help you decide whether it’s the right camp for them.

What’s your communication and visiting policy? It’s always a good idea to find out how the camp prefers that you communicate with your kids. By phone or email? How often? Also, ask how many care packages you’re allowed/encouraged to send and whether there are designated visiting days.

How do you accommodate special needs? A high-quality camp is one where all the campers’ different needs are met. Ask how the staff accommodates special needs with respect to activities, behavior, learning and dietary restrictions. 

The Staff

How do you hire, train and supervise your camp counselors, and what’s the counselor-camper ratio? One of the best signs that the camp is of a high quality is that it has strict procedures for hiring, training and supervision of camp counselors. This includes criminal background checks, first aid training and regular feedback sessions. It’s also a good sign if most of the counselors return for several summers (they’re obviously enjoying the experience). The APA recommends that the counselor-camper ratio
be relatively low (between 1:6 and 1:12).  

Is there a medical facility with qualified personnel? A high-quality camp will either have a licensed physician or nurse on the premises, a well-stocked supply of commonly-used medications and procedures in place for dispensing medication to all the kids who need them. Also, ask how far away is the closest hospital, doctor’s office and dental clinic and how the kids will get there if needed.

The Campers

How many campers do you have, and how many of them return every year? Generally speaking, the larger the camp, the more activities, and the smaller the camp, the more intimate it feels. Likewise, the higher the return rate, the more satisfied the kids are with the whole camp experience. 

How can your kids stay in touch with their counselors after camp has ended? Kids often develop strong bonds with their counselors. Ask whether they’re encouraged to stay in touch after the camp has ended (who knows, your kids’ favorite counselor could end up being their babysitter). Some camps also host events throughout the year for counselors and campers. It’s a great way to keep in touch until next year’s camp. 

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Camp of Abilities

There’s nothing quite like the fun and freedom of the summer sun. And the best way to feel the warmth of the season’s vibes is to jump into a camp with friends. But which one to choose? With so many activities and opportunities, it can be challenging to choose an environment that fuses development with entertainment. 

What about a camp where your kid, especially a teen, can build empathy, patience, creative problem-solving skills and better communication? Someplace where their impact would be incredible and so would the relationships they create. It’s not what you might think.

“The idea that someone with a disability can’t contribute anything of value is completely inaccurate,” says Joanne Alicea, CEO and founder of Ability Tree First Coast (ATFC), who is also a mom to a child with Down syndrome. Understanding how atypical peers navigate the world fosters camaraderie and empathy. They’re interacting with people who have the same thoughts, emotions and desires, who may not be able to express or communicate them in traditional ways.

“We’re more alike than different. We all want to be valued,” Joanne notes. “A level of compassion grows when you see the value in a person.” She has been running camps for individuals with disabilities for eight years. The organization supports people with disabilities and their families with activities, camps and parent’s night out. She has seen firsthand how all kids benefit from the interactions of their peers, with and without disabilities.

One such child is Patrice Barge, who is on the autism spectrum and has a diagnosis called Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). The condition causes tumors to grow on the nerves, and symptoms include light brown patches on the skin, freckles on the armpits or groin and skeletal abnormalities. 

“Patrice either forms a bond or doesn’t; that’s her personality,” says mom, Polly, of her daughter. “But she always finds a coach to connect with. The high school kids always seem to find something in common with her.”

From the Volunteers

Maryn Walker is a teen volunteer for ATFC. Admittedly, when she started, it was about the service hours. To her surprise, she gained more than a graduation checkbox.  

“I didn’t realize that there was going to be a mutual benefit. I wasn’t sure that I’d be much of a help. Starting out, I didn’t have any experience with helping at summer camps, nor did I fully understand how to handle the unexpected situations that often happened at this one. But I think you adapt quickly to expect the unexpected because we cannot predict how any of the kids’ days are going,” Maryn recalls of her experience. 

She has continued to volunteer because of the sense of community as well as the passion behind strengthening relationships between peer groups of differing abilities. Maryn adds, “It’s also very educational and spreads information about things we don’t typically learn in school.”

Maryn isn’t alone in her appreciation and surprised personal growth. Gracie West has been working with ATFC for five years. Growing up with a friend on the autism spectrum, Gracie was aware of the exceptional bonds that could blossom. You can get along and have a conversation with anyone if you try; it doesn’t matter their background or ability level, Gracie shares. 

Fostering connections does come with a learning curve. “Receptive versus expressive communication is a thing,” acknowledges Gracie. “You learn they’re not being rude; they’re communicating in their way.” 

Yet, it’s her greatest joy to be a light for others. “It’s the greatest volunteer opportunity I’ve ever had, which is why I’ve done it for so long,” Gracie says.

Jessica Osiadacz, V.P. of Girl Experience for Girl Scouts of Gateway, echoes these sentiments. She has watched young ladies host Smile Camp, seeing firsthand how campers and counselors flourish. 

“After volunteering at Smile Camp, they [girl scouts] have the capacity to help make spaces more inclusive and affirming for youth with disabilities,” says Jessica. “They also have the opportunity to build their leadership skills, including communication, collaboration, creativity, flexibility and conflict resolution.”

Smile Camp is organized by rising 9th through 12th grader counselors who are supported by alumni counselors. Each scout is paired with a camper for the week so the pair can form a bond and increase comfort in communication, play and collaboration. 

How is inclusion helpful? 

When a person with a disability is engaging with peers who are modeling socially appropriate behavior, like what’s acceptable behavior in class or church or on the playground, their peers with disabilities are taking notes. “Depending on the diagnosis,” notes Joanne, “social cues can be lacking for a person with a disability. It’s helpful to have those cues modeled by peers.”

And keep the expectations high. “Differently abled individuals will rise to the occasion,” Joanne encourages. “They want to be accepted and adhere to such standards.”

Such mentorship is pivotal for Patrice, who can have outbursts. Her doctors have even recommended it, if just for recreational activities like art and reading. “Eventually she will look deformed, so it’s important that she’s accepted now,” explains Polly. “That’s why inclusion is important, so she can feel like part of a family.” Such engagement and acceptance is what helps to soothe her in emotional moments, Polly shares. 

Jessica notes that environments like Smile Camp promote communication development and interpersonal skills. “Positive experiences in diverse environments build an appreciation and respect for these differences,” she states. 

While a person with a disability may learn standards and strengthen communication skills, peers without disabilities are learning creative strategies for inclusive environments and communication as well as empathy. 

“When a person is engaging with an individual with disabilities, perspectives shift. You can’t interact with a person with disabilities without starting to see the world differently,” explains Joanne. “You begin to value who the person is, without emphasis on what they can or cannot do. They still have feelings. They may not be expressive, but they are receiving the information.”

That unique perspective encompasses needs around sensory, tactical and physical requirements to be accessible for a spectrum of abilities. It’s a collaborative process. If you have questions about needs, just ask the experts—the person with the disability! Joanne recommends involving them in the conversation instead of speaking for them.

Interactions May Be Closer Than You Think

Nearly 8,000 students in St. Johns County schools have a disability. Volusia County has 13,000 students in their ESE program with 9,000 students with identified disabilities, and Flagler schools are home to about 2,500 kids enrolled in their entire ESE program. Even if children aren’t in the same classes or schools, the likelihood of peers interacting with individuals with disabilities is highly likely.  

Dynamic growth opportunities for all individuals bloom when the perspective is shifted. A broader lens opens the pathway for fresh insights. Camps are a safe space for trying new things and engaging with unknown individuals. They are a way to plant the seed for fun and friendship, all while sharpening leadership skills that last a lifetime.

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