The scene was one of organized chaos Friday at the Lakeview Community Center in east Pasco.
Older elementary-age students worked on math problems. Others were reading or using math flashcards.
Kindergartners colored posters about the importance of holding hands when crossing the street.
Outside, some of the 60 children drew on the tree-shaded pavement with chalk or practiced hula hoop skills.
All the while, high school-age instructors rushed in and out of the center, some with books or a jump rope or other plaything.
And Ovidio Castillo said he could not have been happier.
“If you saw the kids’ faces when they come in, they’re smiling, they’re happy to be here,” said the 17-year-old senior at Chiawana High School this fall.
The weeklong summer camp, operated by volunteer high school students, started two years ago as a way to prepare children living in the low-income mobile home park for the coming school year.
But the program does more than that, instructors and others said, because it provides a safe place for the community’s children and gives them positive role models.
“The end result is that it impacted all other social issues,” said Jose Hernandez, transportation supervisor for the Pasco School District.
Lakeview children attend school at Virgie Robinson Elementary, Ellen Ochoa Middle School and Chiawana. Most students at Virgie Robinson and Ellen Ochoa come from low-income families and many are English language learners.
Lakeview is isolated, just north of Sacajawea State Park, and far from schools and other services such as libraries.
Ovidio grew up there, moving during his freshman year, and he recalled problems with drug use and gangs in the neighborhood.
But he also remembered when some college students visited for a day when he was 10, bringing sodas and games to play with the community’s kids, providing a vision for what Ovidio said he wanted to do.
“I didn’t have this but just because I didn’t, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t,” he said.
Ovidio and other Chiawana students, known as Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success, or ALAS, first offered the summer camp for a week in 2012.
They didn’t have money to offer the camp last summer but came back this year with 10 high school students, thanks to a Columbia Center Rotary grant. Many of the students taught their brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews.
The camp goes all morning, with lessons in math, reading and writing. That’s followed by lunch and a visit from a local agency or organization, such as the Mid-Columbia Libraries or firefighters. Recess and outdoor games wrap up the day’s activities.
“We just want to refresh their memory (about school),” said instructor Maria Yepez, 16, who will be a senior at Chiawana this year.
It’s all a welcome change from the summer routine of watching TV or walking around the neighborhood, said seventh-graders Ariana Parr and Tania Ruelas.
“I’d be home and bored,” said Ariana, 11.
Both attended the camp in 2012. They said they did better in school after that, thanks to the word and math games. Now they’re looking forward to starting at Ellen Ochoa in a few weeks.
The Pasco School District doesn’t run the camp but supports and encourages the high schoolers and has helped rally donations, Hernandez said. It’s a natural fit for the community center, which also has movie nights and other social events.
Yepez said she wasn’t initially convinced about the camp when she was recruited to volunteer in 2012.
She changed her mind when she saw the excited kids pressed against the center’s windows to look inside each day.
“Some of the kids asked me when the last day was,” she said. “I said ‘Friday’ and they said, “We can’t come Saturday?’ ”
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald