Fifth-grader Samantha Perez approached the golf ball Monday at Cal State Bakersfield's playfield with a driver in hand. Before this summer, she'd never held a golf club -- or been on a university campus.
"Keep your head down," coach Cliff Hurd told her. "Smooth swing. Don't try to kill it."
She swung, hit the ball square and it rolled some 50 yards.
"This is fun," Perez said. "And I'm learning a lot. It's better than just watching TV."
In fact, that's what many of the 130 Bakersfield City School District students at CSUB were doing last summer -- watching TV. But this year they're taking part in the National Youth Sports Program, back after being cut for the last two summers due to funding cutbacks.
The month-long summer camp -- offered for free for low-income students -- introduces them to new sports, but also teaches life skills, health and nutrition, and goal-setting.
"We needed this program," said Hurd, a BCSD campus supervisor who has instructed for the program for 15 years. "We know what they're doing from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the summer. They're learning. And we know what they're not doing, and that's getting into trouble."
The BCSD board approved the program in April after BCSD Youth Services Supervisor Lewis Neal campaigned to bring it back. It had been offered since the early 1990s, and hosted some 250 students at one point, before losing federal grant funding.
BCSD is paying $85,000 to fund staffers, meals, transportation and supplies using federal Title I funds, designed to help socioeconomically disadvantaged students in schools.
The program, which ended this week, aims to teach the fourth- through eighth-graders character development through a regimen of sports and academic activities, and drug prevention and conflict resolution courses inside university classes, Neal said.
Hosting the program at CSUB also introduces them to higher education.
"We want them to know this is their university," Neal said.
The students get to play rugby, softball and golf on CSUB fields, they play basketball in the gym, swim in the university pools and eat in the cafeteria. In classrooms, they learn about math, science and staying away from drugs.
They're guided by staff members chosen for being positive role models to the students, like CSUB track and field coach Jermaine Spence. He called the program "a great alternative for the summer to get them out of the house."
Spence has the students practice long jump, relay race and other track and field events.
"This is all about the kids," Spence said. "It teaches discipline. And it's fun and competitive."
For fifth-grader Jorge Cruz, this summer beats last summer, he said. Last year he mostly stayed home and watched TV while his older sister watched him.
"It was really boring. I don't like staying home," Cruz said. "I like playing a lot of sports. And learning new things, too."
District officials said they hope to grow the program next summer. A federal bill to fund the effort again is sitting with the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.