About the Program
In 1982, a gifted education specialist Dr. Larry Coleman and an active parent named Gayle Bush joined together with the dream of providing a summertime supplement to school-year education for gifted children. Their motto was “Learning is Fun.” Staff-members Nathan Dagenais, David Dykes, and David Kyser breathed life into that motto with their gift for meeting campers where they were, whether shy or extroverted, science-oriented or theatrical. This was where camp traditions, like “The Labba-Doo” and “Food Olympics” first emerged. And the camp disco, of course, was a hit from the start, including what has become the unofficial camp song: “Walking on Sunshine,” by Katrina and the Waves.
In the mid-1990s, when Larry and Gayle decided to step down, the camp staff—including Larry’s daughter Erin and Gayle’s son Brandon—decided to work collaboratively to keep camp going. Already, there was a tradition of teaching not only the campers how to lead, but mentoring new teachers and counselors; so several staff-members over the next several years took a turn at the role of director.
In 2001, the camp formally reorganized itself as a non-profit organization under the name “The Appalachian Institute for Creative Learning.” As well as being able to pursue grant and scholarship money with the non-profit status, the new name reflected a different emphasis. There are many programs now that serve gifted children. But AICL is not merely a pre-college academic booster shot. Instead, what AICL does is to create an environment in which it’s safe to laugh and learn, to risk and fail, to experiment with something outside of one’s competence. We celebrate the life of the mind, but we’ve seen too many bright, interesting campers who don’t necessarily fit well in a traditional school model to limit ourselves to those who’ve been classified as “gifted.” Instead, we call our campers “motivated learners,” figuring anyone who shows up to take biology, math, or art in July is motivated.
Campers make lifelong friends at AICL. They experience breakthroughs in their thinking and understanding. They experience acceptance and new confidence in their social skills. But most of all, they receive a lesson that we hope will stay with them their whole lives, and that, through all of our changes, we’ve known all along: “Learning is Fun.”
A.I.C.L’s Summer Enrichment Camp offers a co-ed residential and day program for gifted and talented children, alternative learners, the easily bored, and the constantly curious. Our residential program is for children entering third through twelfth grades. Eight- to twelve-year-old children are welcome to attend our day camp. Children do not need to be officially certified as gifted to attend our program; instead, we consider creativity and enthusiasm for learning to be sufficient criteria. Alums cite S.E.C. as a source of confidence and a catalyst for their intellectual curiosity.