Great River program gives children freedom to explore their interests.

There is something for almost every child in the camps that will be conducted this summer by Great River School. The four-day sessions will focus on hiking, sailing, mountain biking and other sports as well as science, the environment, and the creative and culinary arts, according to Brent Cummins, who is in his fourth year directing the program.

The camps are staffed by instructors from Great River School, a public charter school at 1326 Energy Park Drive. Cummins, the director of outdoor education at Great River, has seen the summer program grow from 346 students in 2019 to 898 in 2021.

“We pride ourselves on offering a wide variety of camps to hopefully capture the interest of every youth,” Cummins said.


summer camp
Children enrolled in a previous Great River School summer camp tried their hand at archery.

The camps are offered in five age groups from prekindergarten through high school. Half-day and full-day sessions are offered Monday through Thursday from June 20 to August 12 (except for July 4-8). The cost is $175 for half-day and $350 for full-day camps with discounts for multiple weeks, multiple children and early registration. New this year is an additional Friday Fun Day option.

Scholarships are available for families who request assistance, Cummins said, “and since COVID began, we’ve offered 100 percent refunds (to families who decide not to attend) no matter the reason.”



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Camps embrace Montessori philosophy

Great River is a Montessori school, and the summer camps embrace the same philosophy. “Our mission is to prepare students for their unique roles as responsible and engaged citizens of the world,” Cummins said. “We encourage students to seek new challenges and explore their interests by offering a variety of themes and using experiential learning and exploration as our primary teaching tools. We provide enough instruction to teach new skills and give campers the opportunity to take it to the next level, whatever that might be for each individual.”

“We know that consistency is really helpful for children,” said Nadine Wetzel-Curtis, a teacher at Great River who has been leading its summer camps for the past three years. Wetzel-Curtis’ two daughters have enrolled in several of the camps over the past few summers. The younger, Thea, 9, participated in such week-long camps as Silly Science; Nature Naturally; Games, Games, Games; and Totally Awesome Random Fun. “I think her favorite was Cardboard Creation Camp,” Wetzel-Curtis said. “Never underestimate the possibilities of a bunch of cardboard boxes.”

“(Great River’s summer camps) strike a perfect balance of structured, stimulating activities and that kind of shaggy hanging-out feeling of freedom and discovery and fun.”

“(Great River’s summer camps) strike a perfect balance of structured, stimulating activities and that kind of shaggy hanging-out feeling of freedom and discovery and fun,” said Macalester-Groveland mother Emily Simon. “As a working parent, I’m happily paying for my son to spend his day in exactly the environment I’d be trying to create at home if I could. The leaders of the camps are strong authority figures, so the kids respect them and there is structure. But they give the kids enough freedom to make it feel like summer should feel—open, fun and mostly outside.”

“It’s really fun,” said Great River summer camper Milo Simon-Lucero, 12. “I’ll do the Robotics camp this summer if I can, but I have mostly done the Camp of All Camps,” referring to a four-day session that offers a variety of activities. “The people are great and nice and kind and the activities—if you can’t do something or don’t want to, there’s always a second option,” Simon-Lucero said.

“My kids first went to a Great River camp when they were 5 and 7,” said Berit Thorkelson of Mendota Heights. “They’re now 10 and 12. We were drawn to it as a lo-fi experience that encourages kids to use their imagination and be outdoors. This year, my son will be going to Mountain Biking, and my daughter is going to Totally Awesome Random Fun. The camps they chose are representative of their personalities and interests now. I love that they always have more than enough options to excite them.”

Great River offered six weeks of in-person summer camps in 2020 “with zero known spread of COVID,” Cummins said. Last year, camp staff were strict about COVID protocols, he added. “We don’t know what the health data will look like this summer, but we ran a safe and fun camp in 2020 and 2021, so we already have our systems set up and ready to go.”

For more information on Great River’s summer camp offerings in 2022, visit, email or call 320-300-0079.

summer camp
Great River School campers made pasta in a summer session titled Who Kneads the Dough.

— Anne Murphy


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