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Discover! Summer: Learning & Adventure in One Great Program

The days are getting shorter, vacations are ending and school buses are back on the streets. Fall has arrived, and with it ends another great year of the exciting Discover! Summer program at Special Tree. It’s back to school for the students, but the memories of 2014 are sure to last a lifetime.

Special Tree wrapped up the busy summer on Friday, August 22nd with a picnic at Cass-Benton Park in Northville, Michigan. Fresh grilled burgers and hot dogs, carnival games, an inflatable slide, music, and an arcade awaited Special Tree students and their families. Midway through the afternoon Christine Morabito, Children's Services Associate Director, gathered everyone together to recognize the students who graduated this year and are heading off to college and other new adventures.

The picnic send-off was a wonderful way to wrap up a summer that included learning new skills, exploring the community, and academic and vocational programming to help students keep up the momentum with learning and rehabilitation all summer long.

The program is organized around weekly themes that tie activities, learning, therapeutic activities and community outings together to help students continue the rehabilitation process. In week one, students began the weekly sessions that would form the backbone of the program, including cooking classes, fitness lessons, and science and academic groups. They also got acquainted with all of the therapy staff and peer mentors—younger adults who are often former Discover! Summer participants—who help newer students feel at ease and settle into the routine.

One of the first big outings was a trip to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo where students learned of the daring astronauts and WWII pilots that pioneered modern flight. They played disc golf, also known as frisbee golf, which challenged their hand-eye coordination, teamwork skills, and cognitive skills such as sequencing and following directions. The beauty of the Discover! Summer program is that while the activities often have a number of therapeutic benefits, the students hardly notice they're participating in therapy while enjoying the adventures.

And what would a summer of adventure be without a baseball game in the mix? Week three included a Detroit Tigers victory over the Oakland Athletics and the treasure hunting exploits of Blackbeard John Bones and the pirate-fighting adventures of Peter Pan. Wild things were in store during week four, with creative games based on Animal Crackers and Zoo Pictionary. The students explored “Where the Wild Things Are” by dressing up in animal masks, and tracked down a geocache in the local community. As week four ended with a trip to the Summer Wind Sanctuary, week five picked up with Michigan Adventures. Highlights included making cherry blossom art, fishing, a tour of Special Tree’s own greenhouse and an action packed day in Port Huron. Week six was a free-for-all titled “Anything Goes”week. The kids spent time decorating pieces of a giant wall puzzle to promote individuality and cooperation and playing in the water park at Frankenmuth’s Splash Village.

Fresh on the heels of learning about horticulture at the Special Tree greenhouse, the Discover! Summer crew headed out in week seven to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor where they saw the famed blooming of the Agave Americana, which only comes to term once in a lifetime. Another trip to Frankenmuth showed off the Ultimate Mirror Maze and, later, sampling international treats at a Japanese Tea House. In week eight, it was back to the waterworks, but this time with a super-hero theme for “Adventureland” week. As part of a larger event organized by Special Tree Recreational Therapists, students were able to try out adaptive kayaking and cycling at the Peddles and Paddles event, followed by an archery lesson. Some of the older students had a chance for an overnight trip to Higgins Lake which really reinforced the friendships that had formed throughout the summer.

Finally, the program wrapped up with “Discover Summer's Got Talent!” The centers were abuzz as students prepared their own unique performances for the annual talent show. The students showed off mad skills in magic tricks, artistic experession, singing, dancing, poetry, and fashion.

While the picnic would be the last day for some, other students will continue on in the Special Tree Discover! After School program. Either way, heading back to school each fall is always a big transition, but with the learning and academics woven through the summer, the Special Tree students are ready to take on the challenge. Hats off to all of our awesome staff who worked to make Discover! Summer another fantastic year for all.
For admissions and information on Special Tree Children's Services, please visit or call Christine Morabito at 800-648-6885.