Summer Discovery

For the past 50 years, Collegiate School’s Summer Quest has offered cherished summer experiences for the entire Richmond community.
An afternoon in mid-July, and students are waiting for the game to resume. They are in the long shadow stretching from the Estes Wing in the Lower School, and the sunlit field before them is a lush summer green, marked with cones and, on either end of the field, a small soccer net. In the brief repose of their soccer game, the students laugh together as camp leader and Kindergarten Teacher Robby Turner gives some helpful tips on the game. Then they take the field again, playing with ease, their cheers casting off into the warm air. Listening closely, you can hear those cheers rise and mix with the other expressions of joy bursting all across Collegiate School’s campus. It’s a day of Summer Quest at Collegiate, a summer day like any other — a day filled with limitless adventure.

At Collegiate, the summer months offer Richmond-area students of all ages a chance to grow and thrive outside traditional classrooms. There are the games played with friends on the playground, the miles traveled on bikes, the fishing excursions, the countless pages of books read, the pruned fingers from spending a day at the pool. For the past 50 years, Collegiate’s Summer Quest has offered these endless summer days for the entire Richmond community, giving students the space to explore and grow.

“For 50 years, Collegiate’s Summer Quest has picked up where the school year ends by providing children of all ages the opportunity to develop through a variety of camps,” says Neil Etheridge, Collegiate’s Director of Quest Programs. “When students attend Summer Quest, they are interacting with teachers and counselors who have a passion for learning. Summer Quest is fun, challenges minds and creates memories that will last a lifetime.”

The repertoire of offerings has grown significantly since Summer Quest began. But the mission — keeping students engaged over the summer — has persisted. What started as the Collegiate Summer School, back in 1972, with camps covering language arts, mathematics and college counseling, has grown to a comprehensive program of more than 175 camps offered each summer. And the programs attract more than just Collegiate students to campus. During Summer Quest 2022, 1,672 students from the Richmond metro region enrolled in at least one summer camp. More than 300 employees worked the camps themselves, a number that includes faculty, staff, college and high school students, coaches and vendors. (For perspective, Collegiate employs 362 full-time staff members during the school year.)

Summer Quest gives students that are not enrolled at Collegiate a chance to experience Collegiate’s approach to education, often compelling them and their families to join the Cougar community year-round.

Tate Price’s first time on North Mooreland Road was in the summer of 2021, when he attended one of Summer Quest’s Junior All-Sports camps. He was struck, first, by the fun of it all — the time spent with other students playing together under the summer sun. Then, as the week went on, he began to recognize the School’s commitment to providing an engaging learning environment. In the spring of 2022, Tate enrolled at Collegiate, and he began the 2022-23 school year as a new 4th Grader.

​​“Tate really enjoyed being a part of the Summer Quest programs,” says Tate’s father Andrew Price. “He especially liked all the different experiences the program offered. Having camps that teach financial literacy to young students is something we hadn’t been exposed to before and, as a parent, that’s really exciting to have your kid be a part of something like that. So to find a place like Collegiate where you can have all these different experiences — a school that offers both serious academic camps as well as camps where you can just play — was really appealing to us.”

When Jennifer Syer and her husband Chris were searching for summer camps for their son Ethan to attend, they were struck by that same scope of comprehensive programs. There was an abundance of opportunity in Summer Quest — opportunity for Ethan to grow as a student and opportunity for him to play with friends during the summer, which, in essence, is what summer is all about. “We were drawn to Collegiate for their reputation of providing a wide variety of well-managed, safe, educational and fun experiences,” Jennifer says. “From the first drop-off to the final pickup at Summer Quest, Collegiate’s staff was always welcoming and available.”

Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Syers began searching for schools Ethan might like to attend. Because of the positive experiences Ethan had already enjoyed at Collegiate over the summer, becoming a Cougar was appealing. “We immediately gravitated to Collegiate,” Jennifer explains. “Having enjoyed Summer Quest, Ethan was already warm to the idea, and, as parents, we knew the quality of education and opportunity would be second to none.”

In the spring of 2022, when Ethan’s acceptance letter arrived, the entire Syer family was elated. Ethan is now enrolled at the School as a 5th Grader. The moments of happiness and personal growth that Ethan had during his time in Summer Quest camps have been amplified as a fulltime Collegiate student. “To say we’ve been pleased with our Collegiate experience would be an understatement,” Jennifer says. “The faculty members are engaged, students are nurtured and the facilities are great. As parents, we can see that Ethan is a sponge, excitedly telling us on the drive home or at the dinner table about what he’s learned. And we know the best is yet to come.”
Both meticulously organized and playfully loose, the structure of Summer Quest camps allows room for exploration. When students arrive at Mr. Turner’s All-Sports camps, the options for what to play are infinite. “I think our camps are about giving kids the chance to create and play on their own, giving them the chance to make up their own games with their own rules,” says Mr. Turner, who also directs the Discover Richmond camps. “I’ve found that campers like the fun and the flexibility to just play sports of all kinds. There’s no league, there aren’t any standings. We’re just playing and having fun.”

Lower School Math Specialist Laura Domalik, who led a camp called Get Your Math On!, has discovered that structured play engages and excites students. Through a variety of games and other math-related activities involving numbers, students learn how to apply math in places other than multiplication tables. Math becomes digestible, less rote. By approaching math in this way, Mrs. Domalik is teaching students to persevere and problem solve. “So one day in camp, for example, we made friendship bracelets, which involve a mathematical pattern. On another day, we spent time making chocolate desserts, and that got students thinking about fractions in a different way,” Mrs. Domalik explains. “Young kids learn through play. This is another way to learn and develop that encourages students to think through problems and possibilities and really understand the logic involved in math.”

Guided by faculty and student counselors, Summer Quest gives camp leaders and those assisting them a space to develop as educators and mentors. As Grayson Hepp, a Senior at Collegiate and a camp counselor for Robyn Hartley’s camp on gardening, teaches a young student how to hold a fledgling chicken, gratification rushes over him. He’s watching children make discoveries in real time, and he is playing a key role in that discovery. “Assisting with camps is great because I get to connect with younger students,” Grayson says. “As they are learning new things over the summer, I sometimes feel that I’m learning right alongside them. And being put in a leadership role like this is something I really value.”

In the Lower School garden tucked below Reynolds Hall there is a perennial profusion of vegetation. Grayson and Mrs. Hartley, Collegiate’s groundskeeper, take a group of campers through the garden. Within the bushel of budding marigolds, Mrs. Hartley finds a leopard frog. Delicately, one student grabs the frog, cradles it in her cupped hands.

“What did we learn about frogs yesterday?” Mrs. Hartley asks the group. “They can’t breathe underwater all the time like a fish,” one student responds. The campers then go find a small fish tank to fill with water and place the frog in, and then, hoping to feed the frog, a few students go off in search of crickets. Other campers follow Mrs. Hartley to check on the vegetable garden, looking for their next adventure, their next discovery.

Published in the print edition of the 2022 fall Spark magazine, which will begin arriving in mailboxes December 15.