Testimonials from our TEACHERS AND PARTNERS
Billy Liebernckt, Former Greenleaf Elementary School 6th Grade Teacher
Thank you for coming and for sharing a few minutes with me. I’m a 6th grade teacher at Greenleaf, an Oakland school that Camp Phoenix has partnered with since it’s beginning. I feel very grateful to be here, because I’ve been able to see Camp Phoenix grow from an idea some of my friends had, to a program that is serving a good portion of the students at my school, along with other Flatland schools in East Oakland. Over the past 3 years, the program has grown and I am excited to see all of you here supporting it.
Camp Phoenix has a huge impact on the identity and the community of students at my school. I love working with Middle School-aged students because they are at an important stage of exploring and developing their identity and sense of self. What kind of qualities are important to me? What do I care about? Who am I as a friend, a student, a member of my community? How will I live in and change the world around me?
One thing that is incredible to see is the way campers’ identity and their relationship to learning grows and changes because of Camp. Some kids have had a mixed relationship with school, and that relationship can generalize into their understanding of how they think of themselves as learners. But, at Camp Phoenix, kids read books that they love, they make connections to math in new and exciting ways, and they reaffirm their identity as people who love to learn. That sticks with them when they get back to school in the Fall and it is noticeable among my students. You hear it in how excited they are to talk about successes they had in camp, breakthroughs they had, and ways they grew. They come back to school at the end of summer with a strong sense of themselves as “learner.”
Camp Phoenix also has a powerful way of impacting the way my students think of themselves in relation to each other. Most students at my school have been together since Kindergarten, but it is incredible how life can compartmentalize us. In school, too often kids find a group of friends and stay there. And often, those groups seem shaped by similarity in gender, or race, or neighborhood. In camp, new relationships form in powerful ways. Camp friendships develop that may have been somewhat unlikely before, and those friendships stick. What you get is a community of young people who have found new ways to connect with and love each other. Kids who are inseparable after camp, who jokingly say things like, “I never really hung out them before.” Even though they have known each other for 6 years. Camp helps form the kind of beloved community I wish for in my school, and in my neighborhood.
At camp, kids’ identities also grown and expand in the way they see themselves in relation to the world. They experience the outdoors, and new people, and independence, and are challenged to see themselves in new ways. My students tell harrowing stories of treacherous hikes, or of holding banana slugs (also treacherous). Experiences on farms, on field trips, and in circle with each other. They come back to school with wider eyes to the world around them, and energized by who they are in it. That growth in identity is at the heart of the tackling the opportunity gap and is alive in Camp Phoenix’s programming.
Our school is in the Seminary Neighborhood of East Oakland. It’s an incredible community, and it is also a community that faces challenges. When we talk about what works in schools to address those challenges, we limit ourselves in the way we think of the problem. The question needs to be, what works in kids’ lives, not just what works in schools.
Camp Phoenix is a powerful part of our community—that works to make differences in kids’ lives. We’re people who see the kids of Oakland as the people who are going to thrive in and change the world. Experiences like Camp Phoenix are key to helping kids accelerate their learning and expand their identity.
You can see their commitment to that partnership in the way one of the Camp Phoenix founders, Jackie, aka, Ms Mulan, is committed to school, working in academic support, enrichment, and restorative justice. You can see it in their way Camp Phoenix reaches out to kids throughout the year, and continues to push them to connect their camp experience to their daily lives. And you can see it in how the kids light up when you ask them about camp.
I’m incredibly grateful for the work camp Phoenix is doing. I hope that they can continue to grow and expand to have an even greater impact in Oakland and the amazing kids who live there. And I am grateful that all of you spread the news to your friends and networks of people to help this program continue to succeed.
Cameron Stephenson, Former principal of Greenleaf
Last Spring when I heard about Camp Phoenix, I was so excited for a variety of reasons. First of all, as a kid I was lucky enough to attend sleepover camp every summer and it was one of the best parts of my childhood because I was exposed to new activities, new people and the new experience of being on my own. I used to make my mother miserable because I would get “camp sick” when I came home, rather than homesick when I went to camp. I was so excited that former Oakland teachers were committed to providing my Greenleaf students with a similar experience away from home. I was also excited because I always worry about that summer slide and I knew that as former teachers who were asking me for math and reading data about their campers, these camp founders were going to do everything in their power to make sure our students were ready foth grade. My excitement about Camp Phoenix reached its pinnacle when I realized that they had hired one of my former students whose family is my second family to be a counselor. I knew the summer was going to be great.
Camp Phoenix did not disappoint! Camp Phoenix has made a significant impact on our Greenleaf scholars. The students who attended the camp came back in the Fall raring to go. They were mature, hardworking and focused on school. They had also developed a real sense of community and excitement about both camp and school. This year, our 6th grade has been significantly more academically focused than last year. Our Writing, Reading and Math scores have all increased since last year. While we have definitely improved as a middle school, I have no doubt that Camp Phoenix played a role in our growth.
My 5th grade students and families are already asking when they can go to Camp Phoenix. I look forward to our continued partnership as further prepare our students for the rigor of the new common core standards, especially the critical thinking skills and the extensive 21st century technology skills.