The packing lists for most kids’ summer camps include swimsuits and bug spray. Inside the knapsacks of Pop Culture Classroom (PCC) campers, though, you may find freshly sharpened colored pencils, a Captain America cape, or even a tattered copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes.
That’s because the Denver nonprofit’s four inaugural summer camps are designed for eight- to 14-year-olds who are more into comic books—and other elements of pop culture—than kickball. For instance, the session from June 11 to 15 focuses on cosplay (designing, creating, and wearing costumes) and includes free admission to Denver Comic Con; the camp from July 23 to 27 involves writing and illustrating comic books. Taught by PCC’s certified in-house teachers, the camps also feature visits from filmmakers, authors, and game designers to bring home the idea that there’s a path to success and belonging through the arts.
In cultural terms, PCC has been around for a while. This will be the seventh year the organization has put on the successful Denver Comic Con (June 15 to 17). It hosts the convention mainly to fund its educational programs, including a curriculum on tabletop game design that it sells to local teachers and a literacy course for prisoners based on graphic novels. This structure is unusual—for-profit companies or nonprofits that exist solely to hold events are responsible for most comic conventions. PCC’s mission, in contrast, is to find “ways to trick people into learning,” says Christina Angel, Denver Comic Con’s convention director.
It’s not the only thing that differentiates PCC. This past fall, PCC bought its own building in the Valverde neighborhood explicitly to serve the region’s largely marginalized population. To that end, the organization is offering free drop-in hours, during which local youth may draw or read about their favorite superheroes, and scholarships to low-income kids to cover the $300 camp fee. The 12 staffers believe that comics, in particular, provide not only a way for outsiders to find their tribes, but also a path to a love of literacy that might be less daunting than the novels they’re assigned to read in school. “Students are constantly using iPhones and iPads,” says Bruce MacIntosh, Denver Comic Con’s director of programming. “Their world is rich with images and text as a combined thing. If you hand some of them a book, they say that’s work.” But a comic? Now that could serve as the portal to discovering a new superpower: reading.
CEOs In Training
This new summer camp will get your future startup founder brain-storming early.
Got a young’un who’s already aching to share her brilliant ideas with the folks at Techstars? There’s a camp for that: the Creators’ Camp in Lakewood. The weeklong event is essentially a mini tech accelerator that helps kids ages seven to 12 determine what they’re good at and passionate about—and how they could build companies that use those skills to solve the world’s thorniest problems. Mentors help them create prototypes of their products or services, conduct testing, and even present their pitches to the parents at the end of the week. The only bad news: The July program ($350) is capped at 12 participants. If it’s successful, though, founder Eliot Kersgaard—who runs his own creative education startup, Myra Makes—hopes to expand next year.