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.

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 …

[music: “LOS PATRIOTAS DE HOUSTON TEJAS”]

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.

[music: “LOS PATRIOTAS DE HOUSTON TEJAS”]

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.