Why Texas Summer Camps Attract Kids Across The Country

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There are more than 560 summer camps currently operating in the state of Texas. And in just two weeks’ time, they’ll be welcoming kids to their campsites once more. Mike Mcdonell is with Kidventure, the largest day camp program in Houston.

“There is a great sense of anticipation. It’s almost like a team in the locker room waiting to come out for the first quarter, you know. And you can hear the crowd, and you know the kids are there, and it’s a blast.”

For McDonnell, it’s crunch time. He has just a couple of days to make sure every detail is in order. So far, he’s hired 260 counselors and directors to operate his 12 campsites. Right now they’re in training, learning first aid and camp protocol before the official start of summer.

Summer camps are a competitive market across the country, they’re estimated to be an $11 billion industry. Most camps in Texas are non-for-profit day time facilities. There’s a program for almost any interest or activity: Zoology, Computer Science, Rock and Roll, Cooking, and of course the more traditional experience.

Tim Huchton leads the Texas branch of the American Camp Association. He says compared to the rest of the country, Texas has a natural edge in attracting campers.

“There are parents who fly in their children from all over the world to come to summer camp in the state of Texas.  The weather in Texas is nice and warm, there’s plenty of water where they can go swimming. It’s just a fantastic area.”

But as attractive as it is, Huchton says Texas summer camps have had to keep up with technology to attract campers.

“With the change in technology, everyone is having to learn new ways to market themselves and to stay in the cutting edge and so for an industry that doesn’t necessarily do a lot of technology, summer camps have come a long way in terms of using technology to market themselves.”

Huchton says most camps are active on social media. They use Facebook and blogs to sell their unique summer experiences to parents and then to keep them updated while camp is in session. But Hutchon says there’s no better marketing than word of mouth. If you want to stay in the black, you have to keep families coming back year after year.

Furry Friends Help Rice Students De-Stress During Finals

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Something unusual is happening at Rice University. Students in the library are closing their laptops, putting away their textbooks and dropping to the floor.

“Scarlett! Come see all these people that want to see you!”

A dozen dogs of all shapes and sizes, plus a few cats, are enjoying belly rubs in the middle of a reference room.

“Bring up sound of shaking dog.”

Rice is among a growing number of colleges bringing therapy dogs to students during finals week. The idea is that playing with a pet can decrease feelings of anxiety.

Agnes Ho is a Counselor at Rice.  She says it might seem silly, but bringing pets into the library really works.

“This is really helpful, as you can tell the students feel really excited when they see dogs coming in and they can take a break and they can step out of that very stressful moment like take a deep breath.”

She says Rice organizes this and other events like catered study breaks and midnight breakfasts to remind students that they’re not alone. 

On the floor between two shelves, Senior Sam Newman is snuggling a Great Dane and a Chihuahua at the same time. He acknowledges that stress can be a real problem.

“Freshman fall was probably my hardest semester, actually, I was taking multivariable calculus and I hadn’t taken math n a few years, and it was kind of like a punch in the gut, but since then it’s been more smooth sailing, I guess.”

Since then he’s picked up some tricks to manage his time better. He has some advice for underclassmen.

“Keep your wits about you. Make a list of all the things you have to do and try to get things done one at a time.”

Rice first invited therapy dogs to campus last December, and they were such a huge hit with students that they decided to do it again.

Alley Theater Announces $73 Million Renovation To ‘Ensure The Theatre’s Future’

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The Alley Theater in downtown Houston is one of the city’s most significant landmarks, its opening in 1968 was a nationally chronicled event. Forthcoming renovations will only bring a deep cleaning to the building’s façade. The inside, however, will be almost unrecognizable.

The plans include a reconstructed lobby and a complete renovation of the theatre’s largest stage.

Gregory Boyd is the Alley Theater’s artistic director. He says the stage was constructed at a time when minimalist productions were in fashion, and that this has limited their more modern stagings.

“The building hasn’t been renovated since 1968, so theater technology has taken leaps and bounds in that time, obviously, so we want to make the alley more friendly to modern means of production, but we also want to make more intimate the relationship between the actor and the audience.”

The remodeling will come at the end of a $73 million dollar capital campaign, of which $31 million has already been pledged. The reconstruction will also bring more educational and event spacing and significant green energy upgrades.

Houston Students Celebrate Latino Culture Through Mariachi Music

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It’s an ordinary morning at Patrick Henry Middle School in Northeast Houston. 

Jose: “Good morning. Start up. Warm up.”

Thirty students are scrambling into a music room, greeting their teacher, picking up their instruments and practicing their music.

But not just any music …

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Mariachi is a type of Mexican folk music. It’s played at celebrations like weddings and quinceañeras. Musicians wear elaborate suits called traje de charro.

They play violins, trumpets and different sized guitars. The music is about love, pain and betrayal.

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That’s Giana Mijares, the group’s lead vocalist.

She’s 12 years old. She enrolled in this school specifically for the Mariachi program.

“It taught me so well by learning different instruments, its history, and how our culture, or Mexican culture really represents that music. And it’s very good to actually be a part of it and just be proud of it and representing the Mariachi music too.”

Giana credits her dad for her love of Mariachi music. When he heard her singing ballads by the Tejana idol Selena, he put her in vocal lessons with Jose Longoria, the director of the Mariachi program at Patrick Henry.

Longoria recruited her for his program and now she’s one of his 60 students.

The program started almost by accident. 12 years ago, Longoria was working as a math teacher, performing music with his brothers on the side. They were entertaining the crowd at a school luncheon when the school’s superintendent approached him. He said, “Let’s start a Mariachi program.”

Longoria was in. But he knew if the program was going to work, it’d have to be serious. Now his students are more than a band, they’re a team. And he’s as strict as any coach: the kids have to pass all their classes to perform. 

“The responsibility to make sure that they come, that they participate in fund raisers, all that goes back to them. So those are skill building that they’re going to need in the real world for when they have a job. They have to be participating; they have to do their best.”

Some of the kids want careers in music. Others are happy just to learn. Either way, Longoria says the best part of the program is that it helps them be proud of their culture, their families. And based on how many people show up to their performances, he says their families are proud of them too.

US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Sits With Students To Discuss Gun Violence

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Elementary school students in the 3rd Ward crowded into a gymnasium to participate in a lecture by a guest speaker.

“Is this the type of gun that you should have?”

” NO!”

” Should you be on the street with this type of gun?”

” NO!”

That’s Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She says she’ll use her influence in the house to push against the threatened filibuster in the Senate.

She wants schools to be secured by armed guards, not by teachers with guns.

“I think there are Houstonians who believe in this and I think there are Americans who believe in this, and Congress must be guided by America’s wishes and desires, we are the representatives of the people.”

Sean Holcomb is a teacher at Koinonia Community Learning Academy. He says talking about guns in school is important. His young students are already familiar with gun violence.

“Their families usually carry guns or they wake up to sometimes to policemen sometimes raiding their houses looking for those types of weapons, so they’re actually very knowledgeable about guns. They know about them. They know what to do with them and they know what they can and cannot do.”

Holcomb says that youth violence in an epidemic larger than laws, but still commends legislators’ efforts to do something about it. The Senate will cast its first vote on President Obama’s gun-control proposals on Thursday.