“Sense of self”: students learn leadership, friendship at camp - Albuquerque Journal

“Sense of self”: students learn leadership, friendship at camp

Students show off their showmanship during their final performance of the 2022 Roots Summer Leadership Academy on Friday. The closing ceremony marked the 10th anniversary of the camp, which primarily serves International District kids. (Esteban Candelaria/Albuquerque Journal)

Throughout a summer filled with basketball, miniature horses and ice cream, making new friends at the Roots Summer Leadership Academy was 10-year-old Marlou Ann Obregon’s favorite thing she did.

Obregon was one of around 45 kids from in and around Albuquerque’s International District who wrapped up a three-week summer camp on Friday — the 10th year of the academy.

The coolest part of the camp? Music, art, theater and dance — which she later acknowledged was pretty much everything the camp offered.

Marlou Ann Obregon eats lunch with her sister, Salome after the 2022 Roots Summer Leadership Academy closing ceremony on Friday. Marlou Ann attended four camps this summer, but the Roots academy was her favorite. (Esteban Candelaria/Albuquerque Journal)

“I just learned a lot of things,” the Emerson Elementary School fifth grader told the Journal.

Making friends can be hard, some students noted. But now, optimistic about the skills they picked up during the academy, they’re excited to go back to school.

“I really struggle at making friends,” Norah Cuppernell, who’ll soon begin the eighth grade, said. “I’m hoping this will help me boost my confidence.”

The free camp, put on by the New Mexico Black Leadership Council, is open to students from 8 to 16 years old from all parts of the International District.

The camp’s mission is to teach leadership skills through social-emotional learning and bring out students’ different strengths through an education steeped in the arts.

Camp Director Kim Obregon — Marlou Ann’s mother — said the camp attracts people from all walks of life, including students experiencing homelessness and from refugee communities.

Masks painted students on display for the Roots Summer Leadership Academy closing ceremony on Friday. The masks are meant to represent different aspects of students. (Esteban Candelaria/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’re targeting communities where stability is an issue across the board,” she said. “There are certain cultural groups who do not get opportunities like this, and we’re really trying to increase that accessibility.”

The theme for this year was the Zulu word “sawubona,” which Obregon explained as meaning “I see you seeing me.” For one art project, the students treated themselves as their own muses, painting words and designs onto masks displayed after their closing ceremony.

To cap off the camp, students put on a show at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque at 3701 Carlisle NE. They twirled tapestries, acted out bullying scenes with amicable resolutions and sang their camp song, “I believe in me.”

Josaiah Thompson, 16, shows off the mask he made during the Roots Summer Leadership Academy on Friday. He especially liked the metallic-purple paint on the mask. (Esteban Candelaria/Albuquerque Journal)

“This is what gives students that sense of self, that engagement, that excitement about all of the possibilities of learning,” said Albuquerque Public Schools board member Barbara Petersen, who represents the International District.

“It was amazing,” 16-year-old Josaiah Thompson said. “I met a lot of new people, I got to learn new things, and art, and dance styles.”

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