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Jessica Burns demonstrates what a bag puppet is before the children make one of their own during Eastside Elementary's School's Summer Viking Camp being led by volunteer educators and funded by donations from area businesses in Dalton, Ga. The camp helps address the instructional loss many students experience in the summer and to provide some extra hands-on opportunities that are exciting and engaging.


Contact Principal Ben Hunt at 706-278-3074.

DALTON, Ga. -- On a typical summer day, 7-year-old Fidel Hernandez plays soccer outside with his friends.

But not this month.

This month he's shooting rockets, studying dinosaur bones, making slime, dissecting frogs, painting T-shirts and visiting museums.

Or as he said: "We get to do fun stuff."

Fun stuff that also keeps him engaged and learning, Eastside Elementary School Principal Ben Hunt said. Fidel is one of 50 kids attending the first-ever Viking Camp at Eastside, part of Dalton City Schools, which is designed to help students retain the knowledge they learned during the school year over the summer months.

"Our goal was twofold," Hunt said Tuesday. "To bridge that summer break and prevent some of that loss, but also to give our kids some experiences that they just don't get."

The National Summer Learning Association reports that all students experience learning losses during the summer if they do not participate in educational activities. This problem is even more pronounced in lower-income families, said Kate Shatzkin, NSLA vice president of marketing and communication.

"About a century of research shows that kids lose skill in the summer and lower-income kids tend to lose more skills, at least with reading," she said. "The issue seems to be access to things that help kids learn during the summer. Lower-income kids may not have books at home, may not be able to get to the library and may not have the opportunity to go to camps that cost money."

Eastside second-grade teacher Hugo Torres and kindergarten teacher Lis Pace came up with the idea for Viking Camp and spearheaded the fundraising needed to make it a reality, Hunt said. Local businesses and community members donated $7,700 -- enough for three summers with 50 campers.

Torres said his own childhood motivated him to start the camp.

"This is a pretty low socioeconomic environment, and I used to live in this kind of environment," he said. "I never had a chance to go to small learning camps. I wanted to give these kids something that they'll never forget."

Pace said the camp exposes the kids to brand-new experiences.

"For most of them, a trip to Walmart is their idea of a field trip," she said. "We want to provide them with more experiences that perhaps they would never have."

The kids attend camp three days a week for three weeks and eat breakfast and lunch every day. The group recently took a trip to the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Ga., which Lizabeth Frederico, 9, said was her favorite field trip.

"Because we looked at dinosaur bones from a long time ago," she said.

The only downside to attending camp is the early-morning wake-up call, she said.

"Last summer we didn't have to wake up as early," she said, then added with a smile, "But still, it's fun. I like to learn."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at or 423-757-6476.