Camp helps students affected by desegregation order make successful transition to Huntsville Junior High

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GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -  Starting a new school. That's a tough process a lot of us remember for ourselves, and a whole new group of kids will go through it this fall after Huntsville City Schools changed up district lines to get out from under a federal desegregation order.

But a group of community organizations look to make it easier.

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The YMCA, Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, Huntsville City Schools and UAH all got together to create a retreat for students of the newly rebranded Huntsville Junior High.

A group of Huntsville City Schools students gathered at Camp Cha-La-Kee  in Marshall County the last week of June, brought together by different organizations.  The goal -- to tackle some of the issues created by the Huntsville City Schools plan to get out from under a federal desegregation order.

Summer is camp season, and all is as it should be at Camp Cha-La-Kee.

June tags in July as kids navigate past the halfway point of their summer. They're not thinking about school yet, despite what brought them to camp.

"It's a leadership camp for kids entering Huntsville Junior High," Jerry Courtney, Heart of the Valley YMCA president, said.

"We've had a change in our zone lines, picking up some students from different schools," Huntsville Junior High Principal Stephanie Wieseman said.

"There was a lot of work to be done as the city schools began to implement the desegregation plan," Courtney said.

The group piles into the camp hall on their last day to enjoy some of the memories they made. Come fall, this group of about 30 kids will have to report to Huntsville Junior High, a lot of them for the first time.

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Many come from Westlawn Middle, their lives dramatically shifted by a hard-fought legal agreement created in federal court.  But kids will always care more about lunch rooms than court rooms.  They've got enough to worry about.

"I think all of us can relate to the fact that the transition between elementary school to middle school  or junior high, that's a complex time," Courtney said.

Patrick Wynn, President of the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama said, "it's all new to them."  Wynn works with a lot of the kids who will move from Westlawn. He says most of what he hears has to do with who knows who, with concerns about making friends out of classmates.

Though even those pure desires can be complicated by issues that feel a thousand miles away from this camp.

"I have heard some kids say, 'they don't want us over there.' and I think that comes because the kids watch the news. They pay attention to some of the things that adults are saying," Wynn said.

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So that's why the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Huntsville City Schools have all worked in unison and pulled a small group of students together to address kid concerns outside the confines of adult anxiety.

"It's the Y at its best. It's the Boys and Girls Club at its best. It's the university at its best. It's the school system at its best," Courtney said.

All that -- to see kids at their best.