students running

Students Learn and Grow at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp

12:25 PM - August 02, 2022

At the Sly Park Environmental Education Center in Pollock Pines, students gather in groups. Some with instruments and scripts in hand, others preparing for a hike. This can only mean one thing: Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp is back for its 62nd season. And with the 2021 camp held at Union Mine High School, campers and staff members alike were eager to get back up to the Sierra Nevada foothills where the pine trees are a welcoming sight.

The sights go beyond nature though, because at Sugarloaf, you’ll see and hear orchestra music played by kids wearing tennis shoes and backwards hats and scripted conversations playing out by drama students on the basketball courts. Most importantly, you’ll see and hear engrossed students and engaged staff. What started out as just a music camp has become a program where students studying disciplines like art, drama, photography, dance, singing, and audio engineering can learn skills in their desired discipline and create meaningful connections. 

This year’s camp served nearly 300 students through two sessions, each running for one week. Every day is comprised of six hours of instruction, with an afternoon involving leisure time and organized recreational activities. At days end, everyone gathers around to sing and share talents. At the end of the week, students present what they’ve learned through a gallery and performance where families join in attendance.

Although students follow an intense schedule of learning, Sugarloaf offers an often-needed respite from the norm. “The camp provides opportunities for kids that just want a camp experience, a break from the normal routine of school. I think that there’s something about being at a sleepover camp where you separate from mom and dad and you’re in this closed environment where everybody is focused on the arts or on developing people’s character. The kids really do come out changed at the end of the week,” explained Camp Director Andy Johnson. He and fellow Camp Director, Brian Dezzani, are both previous campers with a desire to give back; a testament to the impact Sugarloaf makes. 

As students in the band major wrapped up their Tuesday morning session, instructor Santiago Sabado told his students how far they’ve already come since Sunday. “There’s a lot of great resources here,” explained Andy. “Students make a quantum leap in their abilities.” The encouragement coming from instructors is noticeable in each program. For example, a drama teacher enthusiastically performs lines for students, and music recording and production instructors offer feedback on “wild” music tracks. Not to mention that many instructors and staff travel to participate in Sugarloaf—from the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest all the way to Georgia. Their involvement is monumental in creating a truly unique and rare experience for local youth.  

Students may first attend camp after completing grade five and can participate every year through grade eleven. El Dorado County students are given priority in attending, but out-of-county applications are also accepted. There is even a tuition assistance program through the Sugarloaf Station Foundation for students who would be unable to attend without some financial aid.

“Sugarloaf is really about pausing and getting away from the normal routine and coming together and sharing in artistic experiences. It’s about friendship,” shares Andy.

A lot of teamwork and effort is put into making the camp possible. The program is administered by the El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE), and several team members from educational services, IT and communications support Sugarloaf staff and volunteers. Partners like Placerville Kiwanis and local Rotarians from across the country help to setup and clean up the facilities. County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ed Manansala, attended one of the final performances and noted, “Thank you to our team members, volunteers, donors, educators, Sugarloaf Station Foundation, Community Observatory, and Placerville Kiwanis Club and our local Rotarians for making this experience of a lifetime possible for our students.”

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