Summer Camp of My Dreams

I’m a little late writing about this—other writers, illustrators and educators have been kvelling over it for close to two weeks now. “It” was nErD Camp MI, which took place in little old Parma, Michigan, July 6 and 7. Begun three years ago by teachers Alaina and Colby Sharp, the camp’s attendance has nearly doubled each year.

No wonder. No one pays, or is paid, to come. It’s  grass roots all the way, with teachers volunteering to share their concerns, their successes, their hopes and worries for the future of their profession with one another. I went to a session on Strategies for Working with Disengaged, Reluctant and Struggling Writers, taught by Michigan teacher AnneMarie Johnson. The room was packed, SRO, with dedicated, creative teachers looking for ways to make writing a personal, exciting experience for their kiddos.  On the second day, it gets even better.  There’s no set schedule. Everyone comes together in a sort of town hall, and anyone can propose a session on anything. One dude ran a workshop on protest songs for teachers (Protest? Oh yeah. This was an activist group! Harness their energy and blast off for Mars.)

There were also author/illustrator panels, with superstars the likes of Phil and Erin Stead, Lisa Graff, Lauren Castillo and Matt Cordell talking and goofing around. I discovered that fangirl is a verb.

And then there was nErD Camp Junior. Of course I’d heard that around 5:30 on the second day, hordes of children would descend. But nothing prepared me for the sight of a line of eager, excited young readers and writers stretching out the front door, down the steps and out into the parking lot.  (Cue me turning to mush). I tried to take some pictures, but they didn’t capture the kinetic happiness of the night. The kiddos rotated through sessions with us—and a pizza party!—and before they went home, each one got a free, signed book. I always take away far more than I give when I work with children, but this was extra special, because all of them LOVE BOOKS.  I mean, jump up and down and twirl around LOVE.  It was paradise.

Experiences like that one stay with you. The good will, connections and inspiration they generate is like a bell you can feel vibrating inside you long after it’s stopped ringing.  I say, Nerds 4Ever.

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