Birney Day Camp for Kids
by Tony Larson
Photographs by Ben Harris

Ak is one of several students who is shadowed by a social worker. Why? Well, Ak is a second grader blessed with the ability to hijack a group activity with several words or rebuttals. Well versed in civil disobedience, equipped with a big, thick set of teeth and the disposition of a bulldozer, factor his sensibilities into the lesson plans, or prepare for him to steamroll authority and any imposed structure. They label him Special Ed., but this kid’s a frickin’ genius! Cater to him! That’s the job, and the managing of those few potential terrorists will dictate if the workplace becomes heaven or hell.

Of course there are many ways to function and maintain stable when employed in the “kiddie hustle.” Not all these methods are very enlightened or inspired.
• There’s “laissez-faire”: free time reigns supreme. Kids, entertain yourselves. We’ll step in if you are about to hurt each other.
• There is also the “squash all resistance” approach, which sometimes co-exists quite well with laissez-faire. Keep the children in mortal fear of disobeying and disturbing teachers and assistants. When programs are reduced to this type of boot camp (it happens!), the youth will compete to get in the good graces of the staff and will be thrilled when they are not the ones being screamed on. Many public school classrooms function along these lines. Conformity is the norm and creativity is stifled. Big ups to all my teachers who squashed my own expressive side nice and early.

The youth should be oozing originality in those first few years of schooling. If you don’t run a boot camp or a do-your-thing-and-don’t-stress-me program, you inevitably deal with the ultra-volatiles substance that is youthful expression. When encouraged and stimulated to “let it all hangout,” kids will definitely bring the ruckus. Keep them off balance with healthy snacks, games where nobody loses, lively teachers, weird guest appearances and all kinds of new expectations. Come with a tight game plan or the inmates may soon run the asylum.
There are many hidden elements when dealing with the youth: sugar, bad parenting, good parenting, medication, television, sugar, and more sugar. The influences are strong, man. Don’t fight it, swing with it! Revel when they chant the choruses to Lil Bow Wow and Mystikal’s newest lessons. Appreciate the countless artistic renditions of Pikachu and Charizzard. Don’t start lecturing when a seven year old Hot Boy looks the teacher up and down and lets you know, “That’s my new girlfriend.” And yo, when the first grade girls dance, it might look like a sex show, but Britney Spears and Lil Kim do the same shit! Open expression will bring on that flowing creativity that makes the “kiddie hustle” worthwhile. And if you sense that control is slipping away, pacify the crew with Cheetos and a game of Duck Duck Goose. Guaranteed!

Peace, Tony and Ben.