A group of Kentucky’s future teachers recently spent a week expanding their minds on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus.

The 16 middle school students were part of The Camp TRREE Academic Leadership Academy hosted by the University’s College of Education and funded by the Kentucky Department of Education. Most of the students who attended June 8-13 were from Madison County, with a few from Fayette, Clark, Wayne and Woodford counties.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the objective of The Camp TRREE, which stands for Teacher Recruitment and Retention for Education Excellence, is to encourage young men to become teachers at the elementary and middle school levels, while increasing the educational preparedness and college readiness of the participants.

“The shortage of male teachers from all cultural backgrounds has been well documented,” said Dr. Norman Powell, director for diversity initiatives and programs and associate professor in the College of Education. “It has continued to persist as a challenge for school districts across the nation. Less than four percent of the nation’s three million plus teachers are males.”

The College of Education shared information about the program with area middle schools and the Migrant Education Program, which in turn shared it with boys in grades six through eight. Interested students had to complete an application and 500-word essay on why they wanted to be a teacher and have a 2.0 GPA or higher.

Many of the participants had very good grades. But because some of the students are from socioeconomic backgrounds with limited educational opportunities, Powell said, the camp works to provide the participants with opportunities they might not otherwise have regarding learning and being successful at learning.

The camp curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, math and health. Sessions on topics such as aviation, emergency medical care, genetics and the stock market included hands-on simulations for the campers. They also participated in daily Spanish or Japanese language classes and were able to express themselves by designing masks and creating paintings to reflect their individual identities.

Two current College of Education students and one recent graduate served as mentors to the campers during the week. “The program encourages boys into teaching because the mentors we hire are all themselves educators,” Powell said. “We talk about education and the importance of education in the sessions. The program is from the College of Education and the people presenting are mostly College of Education faculty, so it’s sort of subtle how we do it. We want to expose them to people who are really good at teaching.”

Campers also participated in recreational activities in the evenings, such as swimming at Alumni Coliseum, going through the Low Ropes Course portion of EKU’s Challenge Course and visiting the newly reopened Hummel Planetarium. They spent Friday touring the Center of Science and Industry science center in Columbus, Ohio.

“We want to give them some really good experiences,” Powell said. “It’s the first time away overnight for some of them. We hope this experience will be one they’ll remember later on, where they’ll look back on it and see it as something special.”

The camp culminated in a graduation ceremony of sorts Saturday morning. A video gave parents an overview of what their children did, and the staff introduced themselves. The students shared their experiences and presented their masks and paintings. Each student received a certificate of completion for attending the camp.

Powell believes it’s important campers attend the program on the University campus. “Coming on a university campus at a young age is a good way to get them early in terms of trying to engage them and get them excited about going on to college,” he said. “So in the future, when they’re thinking about college, they’ve already had the experience. It’s not something scary and out of their reach.”