PALS: A summertime booster shot

Purdue Football player B.J. Knauf, wide receiver, puts participants through their paces with a bag relay race.

Purdue Football player B.J. Knauf, wide receiver, puts participants through their paces with a bag relay race. Nearly 600 Tippecanoe County youth, ages 8-14, spend five weeks at camp this summer learning about fitness, sports, healthy eating and financial literacy at the 13th annual PALS, which runs through July 11. (Purdue University/ Mark Simons)

A monthlong summer camp called PALS for low-income youth ages 8-14 has proven effective at boosting campers’ self-esteem and their interest in being physically active.

Bill Harper, professor of health and kinesiology, and co-director for the Purdue Athletes Life Success program, says the program’s activities revolve around sports and physical well-being, but that PALS’ purpose is much larger.

“The heart of the programming is positive personal development," Harper says. "All program aspects are dedicated to encouraging positive attitude, self-esteem and hope. PALS empowers children to stay in school, set life goals and learn successful life skills.”

The campers spend time at various stations that are strategically spaced on campus so campers walk more than an hour a day. Each station features a sport such as soccer, judo, softball, basketball, swimming, volleyball or active team-building games. Other stations include art, dance, computers, literacy, careers, healthy eating and American Sign Language. Purdue Federal Credit Union also offers a financial literacy component.

The boys and girls are grouped by age with one adult team leader throughout the program. The relationships between campers and their adult role models are associated with improvements in self-esteem and positive attitudes, according to Meghan McDonough, associate professor of health and kinesiology, who led research reported in Research Quarterly, the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology and the Journal of Adolescence.

“Self-esteem is especially important for these at-risk youth. We also found that these higher self-esteem levels were retained after camp ended,” McDonough says. “The campers who reported the greatest improvements in support from leaders and peers at the end of camp were more likely to improve self-esteem and motivation for physical activity.”

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