This article was originally published in the spring 2013 Harker Quarterly.
For more than 50 years having fun through learning and play has taken center stage during summer at The Harker School.
Today there is a bevy of unique camps and other programs available to both Harker and non-Harker students and to participants from around the globe. Now, it’s hard to imagine an era when bugling and military drills were on the list of the school’s scheduled summer activities.
Indeed, making magical summer-time memories is an integral part of Harker’s rich historical roots.
According to Terry Walsh, Harker’s archivist, the earliest record of a school summer program dates back to the 1920s. It was then that Harker’s predecessor, the Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA), first offered a summer schedule of morning academics, followed by military drills, calisthenics, swimming, baseball and hikes.
PAMA also hosted a recreational camp at Camp Eldorado on Lake Alpine in the Sierra, where the boys slept in tent cabins and ate in a log cabin mess hall. Fishing, archery, swimming and campfire programs were offered, and popular activities included bike and horseback riding, bugling, rifle practice and boating.
Then, during the 1950s, the Miss Harker’s School for Girls’ summer program featured Puppet Pantomime, an original variety show presented by the children, as well as pool activities, arts, crafts and woodworking. By the 1960s, the Harker Day School featured a six-week summer program of “Academics, Recreation, and Just Plain Fun!”
After the move to the Saratoga campus in 1972 and into the 1980s, Harker’s summer programs continued to offer academic enrichment, recreation and sports for boys and girls in both boarding and day programs. Activities included archery, dance, drama, martial arts and weight training, along with an ESL program, with boarding students coming from around the world.
Flash forward to the present, and this summer will again offer a potpourri of summer programming options including Camp+ for younger children, the Summer Institute (SI) for middle and high school students, a range of sports camp offerings, and the still successful English Language Institute (ELI) program.
Last season saw expanded programming for the sports camps, which will continue this year with options for soccer, basketball, volleyball and water polo camps. Also new was the sports camp’s integration of lower and middle school athletics with upper school instructors to create a seamless path for athletes within their chosen sports.
But athletic camps are just one of the summer options. For students in K-6, Summer Camp+ offers a full day of morning academics and afternoon activities. Located on Harker’s lower school campus, parents choose sessions by their preferred format, with full, partial-day and morning-only options. Students have the choice of enrolling in either CoreFocus or LOL (Learning Opportunities in Literature). Core Focus is a three- or four-week math and language arts-focused program. LOL is a two-week integrated curriculum centered around a literary theme. Afternoon activities include swim lessons, archery, circus, sports and games, special theme days, a climbing wall and so much more!
“My favorite thing about camp is making hearts,” said first-time camper, five-year-old Sophie Grace speaking about an art activity she did at Camp+ last summer. Grace, who is not a Harker student, also said she enjoyed making new friends at camp.
Meanwhile, the Summer Institute gives students from grades 6-12 the chance to earn credits, learn new skills and follow their passions. Last year’s institute attracted 722 students, with many taking multiple courses.
The for-credit courses include a variety of class options in math, history and technology. Upper school enrichment courses span math, writing, art, history and driver’s education. Middle school enrichment includes several core subjects as well as classes as varied as money management and learning about hip-hop.
“I’m a Harker ‘lifer,’” enthused Jenna Sadhu, grade 7, although last year was her first time at the SI. “It’s more laid back than during the regular school year … I’m really glad Harker made the institute and highly recommend it!”
In addition to the programs for local residents like Sadhu, each year more than 100 international students from elementary through high school participate in Harker’s renowned ELI program. They come with the goal of improving their English and writing skills but leave with a breathtaking exposure to cultural adventures as well. The sightseeing trips are incorporated into the curriculum, and students use their travel experiences to create written and oral projects for presentation.
From ELI to SI, sports and Summer Camp+, summer at Harker offers something for everyone. And, modeling the Harker spirit of pioneering, what started out more than half a century ago as a simple camp for Harker’s predecessor, PAMA, has since evolved into a comprehensive variety of summer offerings.
Delighted that Harker has been offering outstanding summer programs that meet the needs of Harker families and the greater community for so many years, Kelly Espinosa, director of summer programs, said, “We’re looking forward to yet another exciting summer of amazing academics and awesome activities!”