Teaching Fun: Bucks County gym teacher to open summer day camp

Jack Firneno, the Wire

PHOTO COURTESY OF KEVIN OCHS / Richboro Resident Kevin Ochs recently became co-owner of The Sports Zone in Southampton. He's also a a gym teacher at Pearlman Jewish Day School in Elkins Park. And, this summer he is opening his own day camp for kids: Big Oaks Day Camp.

PHOTO COURTESY OF KEVIN OCHS / Richboro Resident Kevin Ochs recently became co-owner of The Sports Zone in Southampton. He’s also a a gym teacher at Pearlman Jewish Day School in Elkins Park. And, this summer he is opening his own day camp for kids: Big Oaks Day Camp.

A teacher is a teacher, whether he’s in a school, a camp or a kid’s birthday party.

At least, that’s the case for Kevin Ochs. The 49-year-old Richboro resident is a gym teacher at Pearlman Jewish Day School in Elkins Park, recently became co-owner of The Sports Zone in Southampton, and this summer is opening his own day camp.

“My whole life has been about passion,” he explained. “I had a gift for motivating kids and getting them to participate and play. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.”

And, he said, it’s his role as a teacher that makes his approach to The Sports Zone and, soon, Big Oaks Day Camp, valuable.  To Ochs, it’s not just enough to offer activities like the sports-themed birthday parties and facilities at Sports Zone, or the variety of projects he’ll offer at the day camp.

What matters is what the kids get out of them.

“The kids will get diversity, a little of everything: sports, nature, swimming, art projects,” he explained. “That’s the key, that’s what camp does. It’s the opportunity to try something new.”

It’s what he and his business partner Steve Haines plan to bring the camp, and already offer at The Sports Zone and with their work as teachers. Ochs calls it “the art of facilitation.”

That means not just offering activities, but making sure the activities are the right ones for each kid, and making sure they’re getting something out of it.

If that means, for instance, changing gears on a basketball-themed birthday party to a game of tag because it’s clear most of the kids aren’t in to basketball, he’ll do that. And, when it comes to the camp, Ochs has fellow teachers on staff to make sure they’ve got the right activity for each camper.

“Teachers have the experience and the skill to recognize what’s going well or not, and can adjust the activity,” he explained. “We have to be able to adapt in the moment, to recognize when they’re struggling and teach them to overcome those obstacles.”

It’s important for the kids to be engaged, Ochs explained, because they’re more than just games: “They’re team-building activities and teach the kids how to work in groups and buy into a sense of community.”

And, Ochs invoked the old adage that winning isn’t everything — “Kids learn it’s OK to fail, or not be good at something,” he explained — but also pointed out that finding what does work is much more important.

“It’s not just child care. We’re here to make sure each kid can get something out of the camp, that there’s something for every child, sports or not.”

Big Oaks will open for the first time this summer on June 22 in Yardley on a 20-acre campus complete with an air-conditioned gymnasium, open fields and a small creek for nature walks and other activities.

Parents have the choice of four- or eight-week programs Monday through Friday for children ages 6 through 13, and the camp, staffed with fellow veteran teachers, among others, is projecting 50 to 80 kids this year with a long-term goal of up to 200 campers.

It seems like a lot of work, on top of a full-time teaching job and another business running an indoor family entertainment center. But, that’s not what it seems like for Ochs.

“I don’t consider it work. When you do what you love, it really shows,” he said. “I have a lot of energy. I’m like a 49-year-old kid.”

For more information on Big Oaks Day Camp, call Kevin Ochs at 215.399.6409.

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