Cranbury Arts Council keeps children busy with summer camp

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On a recent Friday morning, Tom Stinson was making his voice loud to get the attention of his students in the summer camp class he was teaching at the Cranbury School.

“Nick’s group,” he said to possibly the next batch of future builders who are studying architecture with him in a classroom that has a sign proclaiming, “Safety First, Stay Alert.”

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Here, young minds were at work, as they have been in classrooms throughout the labyrinth-like school where the Cranbury Arts Council is holding its summer camp for children as old as rising high school freshmen and as young as children entering kindergarten.

Like the ages of the campers, courses also run the gamut: from acting to robotics to decorating cupcakes.

Cyndy Coppotelli, board secretary of the Cranbury Arts Council, said she contacts camp teachers in the fall to find out what they want to teach and when.

“They come up with incredible ideas,” she said. “Sometimes, if they’re not sure or if we have a new teacher, we may offer suggestions or we may brainstorm together.”

Now in its 23rd year, the camp offers mostly one-week courses. The day is broken into morning and afternoon sessions so parents have an option of whether they want their children to stay for a half day ending at 11:45 a.m. or a full day ending at 3 p.m.

“I think it has steadily grown throughout the years,” camp director Joann Charwin said of enrollment. “This year, we have the most campers we’ve ever had.”

Registration, at about 200 children as of last week, goes through the summer, so parents still have time to register their children.

Most of the camp teachers also teach at the Cranbury School, so campers from town find themselves taking courses with and being around familiar faces. Stinson, for example, is the industrial arts teacher at the school, while Charwin is the guidance counselor.

“They know the school because they go to school here,” Charwin said. “They’re comfortable in the building. They know the teachers, but yet, it’s open to other communities as well.”

In addition to Cranbury, campers come from Plainsboro, West Windsor and other nearby towns.

For parents whose children will enter kindergarten at the Cranbury School, the camp gives their youngsters a preview of what school life is like. Barbara Adams, a camp teacher, is also one of two kindergarten teachers at the school, so some campers might have her come September.

“This is like a little pre-get to know the school, which is wonderful,” Adams said, standing in her classroom. “So it’s not a brand new experience when they come in the first day. It’s not as scary.”

“I think a lot of parents of incoming kindergartners like to take the opportunity to give their children a chance to get acclimated to the school,” Coppotelli said.

As morning is turning to afternoon, students are working on a production of “Annie Kids,” led by Gary Charwin, husband of Joann and a retired teacher. The two-week program, featuring some 60 campers, is a musical theater workshop that goes from auditioning for parts to performing on the stage.

“It’s all done in two weeks,” he said, not far from where some of his students are practicing their singing. “Across the board, they’re really, really talented kids.”

Emilie Strapp, playing the lead role of Annie, said she likes acting and has been coming to Cranbury Arts Council camps, including in the winter, for two years. At this point of the camp, students were memorizing their lines and going through where they would be standing on stage.

“I just really wanted to be able to sing and to have fun,” Emilie said.

Information about the camp can be found at www.cranburyartscouncil.org or by sending email to cranburyartscouncil@gmail.com

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