Saluki Kids Academy kicks off second year Saluki_7/30_vnd

By Gus Bode

Crouched on the bank of Campus Lake, Curtis Lee Gibbs, 11, stared intently at his bobber as it wavered slightly from the fish just underneath the surface, taunting him to reel in too soon.

The bobber darted beneath the surface, and as Gibbs jerked the pole, the hook came flying out of the water, but the fish had already made off with his bait.

It was the third time in a row this particular fish had eluded Gibbs, but as a seasoned fisherman, having fished since he was 7, he was not about to give up. After all, with three fish under his belt, he had already pulled in more than any of the other kids in the Saluki Kids Academy that day.

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“I’ve been very impressed with his abilities,” said Paul McKnight, a youth development educator from the University of Illinois. “You can really tell he’s an experienced fisherman.”

McKnight was in his sixth day at the camp, teaching more than 200 children the basics of casting, baiting and the safety of fishing, as well as mending hundreds of broken lines and fishing bobbers and hooks out of nearby logs, trees and the occasional finger.

However, fishing was only one activity during the two-week camp. The children also participated in units of art, architecture, drama, ceramics, music, aviation, biology and geography.

The camp, funded through private and corporate donations, provided activities for children from low-income families in the fourth through sixth grades.

“Our basic goal is to provide academic and cultural enrichment for children from Southern Illinois communities that originally would not get the chance to come here,” said Keith Hillkirk, dean of the College of Education.

McKnight said the camp also serves as a vehicle for youth development, encouraging children to make healthy choices and learn life skills such as ethics, responsibility, respect for wildlife and good decision making.

“A lot of kids are from the two poorest counties in the state – Alexander and Pulaski,” McKnight said. “They’ve got a lot of things going against them, and so we try to give them things to do they can enjoy. It is especially important in the summer when they are not in school and could make some bad decisions.”

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The camp, in its second year, was modeled after a program at Ohio University called Kids on Campus in the hopes of providing permanent outreach to kids, families, and communities, according to Hillkirk.

Several universities and state organizations collaborated to sponsor the camp for the children. Half of the children travel to Shawnee Community College during the second week to attend activities on its campus.

“It is important to introduce them to the university and what it has to offer,” Hillkirk said. “Hopefully they will feel a connection and stay in school to go to a community college or university.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources also played an active role in providing activities for the children. In late May, the department released almost 3,000 bluegill, sunfish, and small catfish into a netted-off section of Campus Lake so they would grow big enough for the children to catch during the camp.

It also provided the fishing rods, reels, bait and tackle used during the daily two-hour fishing expeditions.

It was tackle that was greatly appreciated as Gibbs marched back with an empty line and his hook and bobber surrendered to a fallen log.

“[The fish] took it under the log and snapped my line right off,” Gibbs explained as he deftly attached a new bobber to his line. “It sure was a big one though. I’ll get him this time.”

McKnight said the goal is to have children make fishing a lifetime hobby and involve their family.

“It’s an outstanding program,” he said. “I’m thrilled they started it, and I hope they continue it.”

Reporter Valerie N. Donnals can be reached at [email protected]

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