COVER STORY

Same place, new life

Gainesvillians kickstart their morale with summer extracurriculars


Award-winning artist Jane Kopp, who teaches art at Newberry High School, retreats to her Hawk's Edge studio each summer to work on her acrylic paintings.

ROB C. WITZEL/Gainesville Magazine
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 30, 2005 at 12:49 p.m.

Change in routine can shake off the torpor of a Florida summer even for those who stay in the area.

Facts

GET ACTIVE

Inspired to liven up your routine this summer?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

PITCH IN: Find almost any volunteer opportunity, long-term or one-time, at The Volunteer Center of Alachua County's Web site, www.volunteergateway.org. There are over 700 openings, from coaches to mentors.

BRUSH UP: Pursue a new hobby with Santa Fe Community College's community education classes. The Summer session begins June 11, with classes in food and wine, languages, fine art, dance and more. Check for classes at www.sfcc.edu, or call (395-5193).

JOIN IN: The Gainesville area boasts clubs from Scottish Country Dance (Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m. at Destiny Studio in Glenwood Plaza) to Scrabble (Mondays, 6:30 p.m. at Books-A-Million, 2601 NW 13th Street).

While most of us can't take three months off to pursue our passions, the slower pace of summer in a college town can be an opportunity to volunteer or develop a new skill. For educators with a three-month break from classes, however, summer can be a time to reinvent themselves.

"Our teachers have really interesting hobbies they pursue during the summer," says Jackie Johnson, public information officer with the School Board of Alachua County.

"Like anyone with a challenging profession, it's a chance for them to recharge their batteries, but they also bring back with them the life experiences they've gained. It not only makes them better teachers, it makes them great role models. The students see that their teachers are lifelong learners who seek out new and challenging experiences." After 27 years at Newberry High School, art teacher Jane Kopp keeps her enthusiasm and her technique fresh by retreating to her studio. Each summer, she devotes herself to her own art - acrylic paintings of Florida scenes from Cracker houses to panthers.

The annual ritual feeds her soul and supplements her salary.

"It's ironic: My father was a teacher, and when I told him I wanted to study art, he said, OI don't want you to be a starving artist.' So I ended up being a starving teacher," Kopp jokes.

Kopp's studio is a converted breakfast room with abundant natural light, overlooking the fields and forests of her 13 acres near O'Leno State Park.

"It's a time to reflect on the year," she says. "I think about what I feel good about, what I want to change and improve. It's like therapy." After several hours in her studio, Kopp will break to work in her garden, give painting lessons or have lunch with friends. At the end of the summer, she returns to her students refreshed, with an armload of paintings that show them two things: First, that the area they call home is uniquely beautiful. The second:

Their art teacher can walk the walk.

"It helps me to gain respect in their eyes when they see I can do what I teach," she says.

BACK TO CAMP

For Janet Silverstein, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Florida, summer means heading back to one of her favorite places: camp.

Silverstein spends three weeks each summer at the YMCA's Camp Winona in DeLeon Springs, volunteering as medical director for the Gainesville-based Florida Diabetes Camp.

"Camp is the most rewarding thing I do," says Silverstein, who started volunteering with the camps in 1979. Along with camp directors Helene Rhine, Gary Cornwell and Rosalie Bandyopadhyay, Silverstein helps kids from the Southeast, South America and the Caribbean learn to better manage their diabetes.

"It has made me a more compassionate physician," Silverstein says. "When you see these kids outside of a clinical setting, when they're dealing with trying to swim and sail with an insulin pump, you think of them as children rather than as patients."

Silverstein spends her days at camp making rounds, talking to the counselors and children in their cabins and helping campers learn to handle their own insulin injections. The best part, she says, is seeing her charges gain independence. (The most difficult part: being away from her husband for almost a month. "it sounds a little silly, but it's true," she says.)

"When I see these kids grow and learn to accept their diabetes, when they start taking control, that's wonderful," Silverstein says. "It's exciting."

Ginny Dixon-Wood gets the same feeling when one of her campers - children with cleft lips and palates - speaks in front of an audience for the first time.

Dixon-Wood, a speech pathologist with UF, started the craniofacial differences camp in Keystone Heights two years ago.

"It combines the two things I love: camping and trying to make a difference for these kids," she says.

Campers not only improve their speech, but also learn to deal with the teasing they often encounter because they look and sound different.

"It's not just about their speech; it's about their self-confidence," Dixon-Wood says. "At the end of the camp, they perform skits or poems in front of an audience. They're more confident in their speech and they're very proud of what they've done."

At the camp, intensive speech therapy is interspersed with traditional camp activities from archery to sailing, all of which leaves Dixon-Wood physically exhausted, but mentally energized.

"At the end of camp, I'm tired, but I just want to stay there. It's such a peaceful environment," she says. "Sometimes you get discouraged during the year. Seeing these kids progress, you feel you're doing the right thing."

LEARNING & GROWING

When summer draws to a close, the School Board's Johnson sees the smiles of teachers returning from their break rejuvenated and ready to start the year. You don't have to be an educator, she says, to learn a lesson from that.

"I've seen many studies that say that people who don't take a break from their normal routine are not as effective in their jobs," she says. "But it's more than that. It's my firm belief that when you stop learning and growing, you've stopped living."

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