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Jacksonville Public Defender’s Camp Program Blends Education And Games

Lindsey Kilbride
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville teaches summer campers about the legislative process.

Seventy-nine girls and boys ages five-to-14 were seated around tables in a Westside community center awaiting the arrival of their state senator, Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville on Wednesday morning.

Gibson is one of several speakers scheduled to engage with the kids attending the six-week Vision for Excellence summer day camp, started by the Public Defender’s office in 2010

She split the campers into two groups, representing the two legislative chambers.

“All of you all today are state senators just like me,” Gibson said. “So you’re going to have a vote.”

The camp-legislature was charged with passing a bill deciding its next field trip-- to a museum, the library or a symphony performance. Each group picked a leader, who conducted a vote and the two sides presented their bills. Both sides agreed on the same field trip, unlike many bills traveling through the real legislature.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Gibson explained to the students if they werestate lawmakers, their decision would mean every camp in Florida would get a museum field trip.

Vision for Excellence camp Program Director Fay Davis said the camp is highly focused on education. The students even bring their reports on Day 1, so camp leaders know which areas to focus on.

“The purpose of the program is to put our kids on the right track and not to allow them to become a client of the public defender's office,” Davis said.

After Gibson leaves, the students will be tasked with budgeting for a hypothetical trip with $5,000. They’ll have to consider food, accommodations and travel expenses.

“The [group] who has the most money left will be headed to a pizza party,” Davis said.

Thursday the kids will participate in a mock trial for a girl accused of stealing from the mall.

But Davis said it’s an equal mix of learning and fun. The kids play a lot of games outside, participate in a talent show and get to go to the beach.

Parents pay $10 a week, and the city kicks in $36,000 for the camp each year  — which the public defender's office says in its camp pamphlets ends up saving taxpayers in the long run, mostly on the cost of prison.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.