Connection and Transformation at Summer Encounter

Three photos of Summer Encounter campers from left to right: Boy holding up paper with colored circles, girl playing recorder, girl holding guitar

During the 20th anniversary Summer Encounter, campers were introduced to the performing arts through workshops, performances by guest artists, virtual field trips, and more.

This July, 26 campers and 12 counselors joined forces online for the 20th annual Summer Encounter. Over the course of two weeks, fourth and fifth graders from our LAUSD partner schools explored connection and transformation—this year’s camp theme—through arts workshops, collaborative group projects, virtual field trips, and more. Besides creating and sharing art with each other, campers were also able to learn from guest artists including Emmy Award-winning composer and Community School alumnus Kris Bowers.

Using insights from a year of virtual learning and events, the Center for Innovation and Community Impact, Summer Encounter Artistic Director Debbie Devine, and curriculum consultant Amy Kirkland restructured this year’s camp to create an engaging experience for campers to focus on art and connection. “Everyone’s been feeling disconnected and isolated after this past year. We wanted to celebrate what it is to be connected and how art transforms you. That’s what we’re doing now, really putting the emphasis on all of them being artists,” explained Debbie over Zoom. “It was incredible to see the entire team come together to create a beautiful experience for the campers involved in the program,” added Nate Zeisler, Dean for Community Initiatives.

Summer Encounter 2021 incorporated distance-learning app Seesaw, limited Zoom screen time to combat fatigue, and experimented with a new format for the finale presentation. “The kids are, in my opinion, even more engaged and ready and actually finding more success in every element of the camp than last year,” shared voice faculty Leeav Sofer. “It’s really taught us so much and it’s been an exciting learning process, and I’m just honored to be able to say that we were resilient and we made it happen,” agreed Debbie.

Another benefit of hosting a virtual camp was welcoming guest artists from across the country who might not have been able to join in-person, like Kris Bowers. Professional recorder player Tali Rubinstein, actor Trent Mills, mariachi band Grupo Bella, Jumpstart flutist Maya Lopez, and visual arts educator Karina Esperanza Yanez also performed and engaged with students.

Trent Mills starred as the piano in the Center for Innovation and Community Impact’s Musical Encounter Interactive video “The Piano,” also featuring Conservatory student Sam Glicklich. In the 30-minute film, the piano has been relegated to a practice room and undergoes a transformation after finding its place in the world. After seeing the world premiere during Summer Encounter, campers were able to ask questions to the piano, aka Trent, over Zoom. “I wanted them to feel something about a piano in a way that they’ve never felt before. And their questions for the piano made me realize we’ve done it,” exclaimed Debbie.

Campers also watched Kris Bowers’ new Oscar-nominated documentary “A Concerto is a Conversation” and were joined by Kris for a Q&A session. “For the campers, it was this incredible epiphany after seeing the documentary and realizing what he was capable of doing as a composer and how much regard he has [in the industry],” said Debbie.

After two weeks of dance, guitar, drama, voice, percussion, and spoken word workshops; students, counselors, and faculty shared their work with each other during the finale presentation. By hosting it live on Zoom, “it’s created more space for us to dive into the sharing and appreciating of each other’s work,” described Leeav. Participants shared how they had connected and transformed during camp through song, poetry, and testimonial.

Zoom screenshot of Summer Encounter counselor Liesel
I am new to Summer Encounter, and man, can I say that it transformed me, because it really did. I'm so humbled and grateful to have been a part of it because these campers taught me a lot about connection online. Aside from that, they really taught me about the true gift it is to share art with others because they were just so engaged. And seeing them pick up the recorder, the guitar, for the first time, and their eyes light up, it reminds me of why art and sharing it and arts education is so important. It's just so transformative for them and for me. Liesel, Yellow Counselor

The finale concluded with a graduation ceremony, but it is just the beginning of the campers’ Colburn experience. Many receive scholarships to participate in the Jumpstart program and will be able to continue connecting and transforming through arts education. Others will return to Summer Encounter as counselors in the future to give back the inspiration they received from their counselors. “Summer Encounter has created this intergenerational pipeline that keeps us as a larger community together,” explained Leeav.

Zoom screenshot of person wearing black Summer Encounter tshirt singing

Listen to Summer Encounter counselors and faculty sing this year's theme song

Special thanks to the Max H. Gluck Foundation and East West Bank for their continued support of Summer Encounter.