The current iteration of Eco-Camp, is a direct evolution of the original Eco-Camp as designed in 1990 by Nancy M. Paone, Gennaro Frumento and Dr. Michael Paone. It grew from an observation that West Haven had both a beautiful and accessible shorefront, but no summer education programs focusing on coastal eco-system science available to elementary school age children. (It should be noted that there were and are playground and sports camps.) Frumento and Paone were educators at West Haven High School. They brought the idea to the Mayor of West Haven and the Superintendent of Schools and though both recognized the potential value of such a program, neither were quite sure as to whether it would be supported by the community. The program was allowed to pilot for a three day period out of a small office located in Oak Grove Park and announced only by a small notification in the local paper. The response was completely overwhelming and the rest, as has been said, is history.
The original design was based entirely on bringing young children together in a field environment, to study habitats unique to a coastal ecosystem. The professional background of both Frumento and Paone suited this perfectly. Frumento, the biologist, and Paone, with a focus on geology and the earth sciences, would bring the unique history of Long Island Sound to life. Soon it became apparent that we could be doing so much more. Nancy Paone soon took over the planning and organization of the camp and expanded the curriculum to include the language arts, Native American lore and mythology, music, and arts and crafts.
At Eco-Camp, participants will learn by doing. A typical day includes an early morning focus session on some aspect of coastal science, fishing (gear provided), crabbing and identification, seining, arts and crafts, birding, salt marsh exploration, woodland exploration, local geology, and the geo-history of Long Island Sound.
The professional staff includes certified educators, individuals with specific expertise from the greater community, guest presenters, and a cadre of college students, several from SCSU, that have been with us for the life of Eco-Camp and have now assumed the responsibility of education.
This, we believe this expresses the underlying philosophy of Eco-Camp. Coastal Ecology, as important as it may be, is only a vehicle for a much more important goal. What the directors and designers of the project also noticed was the isolation of children in today's society. The children, through common experience, build friendships and community through common interests, all accomplished without the competitiveness that is often part of the "sport camp" experience. The professional staff is chosen for expertise and spirit, and is given only one directive; "Teach what you enjoy, and the children will enjoy what you teach."
The camp has run for these 25 years as a common project with the West Haven Board of Education, The Mayor's Office and the Department of Human Resources. The cost of the camp was $105.00/week. The price has raised slightly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in over 15 years, however, as a part of the original design, that cost must not be prohibitive. The salaries of the professional and junior staff are paid from those tuitions. It must be noted that certified educators could earn much more, taking a "summer teaching position" but choosing to return to Eco-Camp yearly. Perhaps both staff and participants return because they too see the value and importance of Eco-Camp. They believe experiencing nature makes us more likely to save it.