Summer Camp for Kids and Grown-ups

Cornell summer camp for kids and grown-ups

The first time I visited Cornell University I knew I wanted to study there.

I loved it: the gorges, the greenery, the smart students, the pedestrian-friendly campus, and the size.

I didn’t want to be at a small school where people would know too much about me. I wanted to be somewhere where I could pursue my sundry interests (cell evolution, Freud’s theories, Sembene Ousmane’s novels), take horseback riding for gym class, and never run out of options. I also loved that Cornell was the only Ivy League school that has four state-supported colleges and that lots of students came from New York City with their stylish shoes and fast talking. It felt less snobby to me than a purely private university.

Cornell was as amazing as I expected. I loved my three years in Ithaca (I spent my junior year abroad), appreciated the diversity at the school, and got an outstanding education.

Twenty-two years later, our family is spending the week in Ithaca. We’re at Cornell camp — an innovative program that combines summer camp for kids with summer programs for grown-ups. We’re staying in the dorms (they’re overairconditioned and the blinds don’t close all the way, my two major complaints), eating on the meal plan (danger alert: dessert options at every meal), and studying.

James is taking a sculpture class from a famous Italian American sculptor, Roberto Bertoia, who has been teaching at Cornell for 30 years.

My 12 (“almost 13, Mom”)-year-old is taking horseback riding.

My 11-year-old is studying cartooning, which she likes so much that even though she was sick today she did not want to miss a second.

And my 8-year-old, who is the happiest of us all, is learning about architecture, spending his afternoons and evenings playing sports, and going back for seconds every night at the ice cream bar.

Our toddler is still too young to attend camp so she and I are tooling around Ithaca, checking out the playgrounds, exploring the suspension bridges, and having coffee with old friends. We get to see everyone at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Yesterday evening James stayed at the dorm while our son enjoyed the evening camp, Athena read her book in her dorm room, and Hesperus and I went to hear a lecture by a Cornell professor, Sahara Byrne, about how social media influences every aspect of our lives, starting before we’re born (Beyoncé’s baby sending out tweets) and continuing after we’re gone (Facebook memorial pages, new technology that will allow us to send messages to our as-yet-unborn great great grandchildren).

“This is going to be so boring Mo-om,” my 12-year-old (who had wanted to come) complained.

The lecture began. It was totally interactive, all about research on tweens and teens, and Hesperus was mesmerized.

“Boring?” I asked her when it ended.

“No, it was awesome.”

“She teaches classes about this stuff at Cornell.”

“I want to take a class with her!”

That, of course, is my secret hope — that at least one of our kids will want to go to Cornell, get accepted here, and have as good a college experience as I did.

Etani wants to stay two weeks (our next stop: to visit James’s family in Buffalo). We’re already talking about coming back next year. Want to come?

Here is the clay sculpture from a live model that James made. He will be molding and casting it in plaster later on this week

Related posts:
Our favorite things to do in Ithaca
7 tips to make family travel easier
On interviewing high school students hoping to go to Cornell


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Categories: travel with kids.


  1. This sounds like the ideal way to spend summer vacation. The fact that there are so many things to do for the whole family makes it all seem like a dream. I enjoyed reading about your classes, and love the sculpture James made. Looking forward to your next adventure.
    Cindy La Ferle recently posted…$hould you write for free?My Profile

    • Thanks Cindy. The statue actually got vandalized. Or something happened. When James went back the next day, the head had been ripped off and there was a clean cut where one arm had been. The professor was very upset. No one knows what happened. And they never found the head. He made a new one, though, and he was pleased with the results. It did set him back a full day and he had to scramble to catch up. All in all, he was really delighted with the class. The sculpture is cast in plaster and is a smooth white. I can’t wait to display it in our house somewhere. I know you are very artistic so the praise is much appreciated.

      • It got vandalized? What a huge shock and disappointment that would be. I am glad he was able to rework it. My husband is a sculptor (artist and architect) and I know how much work goes into a piece like that. I hope you post a photo of it again, when you place the statue in your home, Jennifer!
        Cindy La Ferle recently posted…Home Office on FacebookMy Profile

        • No one knows what happened exactly and the professor said there has only been one vandalism in the 30 years he’s been teaching but when James came in in the morning the head was just … GONE. The whole class looked for it and no one could find it. Also, it looked like it had been ripped off. The arm was off too, but it looked like it had been sliced off. Could gravity have done that? Another theory is that it accidentally got knocked over in the dark or something and whoever picked it up (perhaps the maintenance people?) did not find the head and then later the head was thrown away… But they looked in the clay bin and the trash. No head. It’s an unsolvable mystery!

          Shakespeare says “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” And in this case that was true. James worked really hard on a new head and felt even more satisfied with it, despite the stress.

          I will definitely post a new picture when we find a place for it!

          Thanks for reading.

          • Glad it worked out. But since the original head was missing, I would have to suspect vandalism. If it just fell over, the parts would have been nearby. It’s good that James was able to make “sweet use” of the adversity — love that quote. Quite often, that is how the best art is made, or remade 🙂
            Cindy La Ferle recently posted…Home Office on FacebookMy Profile

  2. Shana Langer

    Hello Jennifer, it brings a smile to my face to read your account of Cornell. I’ve been dreaming about taking my family back for a summer too. My parents took me when I was about 10, and I was determined to go to Cornell at that point, and I did, and loved it! Say hello to the gorges for me! Ithaca IS gorgeous!

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