By Wyatt Freeman

Though last year may not have been the best for the HFV Wilson Community Center, this year is bearing witness to several exciting changes. Alicia Gilmartin, the center’s new executive director, is repairing the reputation tarnished in the past year, and she’s starting with the center’s annual summer camp.

Gilmartin says that in past years, the camp, which serves 250 children each day and has a 75-person waiting list, has not been all that it could be. Some children complained of bullying, ineffective time-outs, racial tension and even physical confrontations with other students.

That is all changing this year.

Gilmartin prescribes a lot of the center’s former shortcomings to a lack of organization. Last year, children all played together during their free times. This led to a lot of confrontations between the younger children and the older ones. But this year, the children remain in their age groups at almost all times.

“Just that one change alone has made a lot of difference,” Gilmartin says. “Between that and the other changes we’ve made, we’ve seen almost no bullying this year.”

Other changes include beginning the day with quiet small discussion. During these periods, the children are asked to say nice things about the person next to them. The counselors say this helps to set the tone for the whole day. Students are then reminded of the events planned for the coming days, and of the principles by which they are expected to abide.

The days formerly ended with hectic playtime, which left the parents struggling to track down their kids amongst the hundreds. Now, the day ends with quiet reflection, and the children are asked to comment on which parts of the day they liked or didn’t like.

“I’m always open to suggestions,” Gilmartin says. “Whether it comes from my staff, a parent or even one of the kids, I want to hear it. Ultimately, there is always more room to grow.”

Another interesting change is that this year, children were asked to set their own rules to bolster those set by the facility. Children made rules like “no tattle-telling,” “be respectful to younger kids, too” and “we’re all the same.” The staff says this helps hold the children responsible because they helped create the rules, making it even more important for them to follow them.

Last year’s education period was revamped and came back this year as “mindplay” period. Instead of doing boring math problems or word searches, the children take part in fun experiments and programs designed to explain complex ideas like physics or gravity to even the youngest of them.

Finally, the summer camp has joined the Ardmore Little Theatre’s Education Outreach program to expand the children’s curriculum to include the performing arts. Twice a week, Lucinda Hicks, director of Education Outreach, comes to teach them songs, dances and even poetry reading. For many of these students, this may be their first or only experience with the performing arts.

The staff members have big plans for their students this year, including trips to the Oklahoma City Zoo and science museum among others. They say that this is shaping up to be the community center’s best camp ever.

To ask questions, call Alicia Gilmart at (580) 223-0136.