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West Jordan Journal

West Jordan welcomes wishful wizards

Jul 28, 2017 12:07PM ● By Natalie Conforto

Utah State University Extension brought submersible submarines for the OWL campers to learn to control. They called it the “Gillyweed Tournament” to go with the “Harry Potter” theme. (Marlie Armes)

“Potter” fans, did you miss out on OWL Camp this year? This July, 1,500 youth, ages 11–18, got the memo. After registering online this spring, they received their acceptance letters to Ordinary Wizarding Levels Camp (by muggle post), and congregated at the county library for a day camp filled with “Harry Potter”-themed activities.

For six days, the county library was transformed into Hogwarts Castle, the wizard school from the fictional “Harry Potter” book series. A gigantic scrim painted to look like the imposing entryway of the castle covered the north wall of the library entrance. Cardboard knights and life-sized posters from the “Harry Potter” films added to the ambiance. Like a theme park, dressed-up characters roamed among the participants, willing to pose for selfies. 

Twelve-year-old Ella Barnett giggled when describing the character Gilderoy Lockhart (played at OWL Camp by library event coordinator David Woodruff) strutting around waving his cape, distributing signed glossy photos of himself.

Participant Gia Pereyra enjoyed the scavenger hunt. 

“We had to go around and find clues for things” she said. “Another thing that I really liked was the map. You’d have to find people from Hogwarts around the library.”

“And the butter beer was the best butter beer that I’ve had since being at Harry Potter World,” said Melissa Stevens, who tasted the sweet brew upon picking up her daughter from OWL Camp.

Each book in the series follows young Harry through one year of his boarding school career as he learns to use his magical gifts. The library events were scheduled to track with the books: the first day was for “first years,” or 11-year-olds, and used the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” as its theme. The second day was for 12-year-olds and focused on “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” and so forth. 

At the beginning of each day of camp, participants were sorted into “houses,” or teams, and given corresponding colored T-shirts. Library Director Jim Cooper admitted that most of the kids had strong feelings about which house they wanted to be in, so the coordinators allowed them to trade, as long as they maintained the equal balance among houses.

Second-year student Hunter Thurgood said his favorite class was Potions, “because we actually made something like a potion.” The “potion” they concocted was glittery slime. In Herbology class they crafted mythical mandrake plants. They also played a trading card game that forced interaction, which helped them to form new friendships. Free lunch was provided for all by the Utah Food Bank as a Kids Café location. 

Twelve-year-old Makenna Stevens appreciated the way the décor replicated the descriptions in the books.  

“They had restricted sections,” said. “But during the library class, they took you to the ‘Forbidden Forest,’ which was the park, and they hid a huge spider, from the second book, “The Chamber of Secrets”—it was so fun!” 

Like the fourth book, the fourth day of camp hosted a tri-wizard tournament, complete with a maze and dragon. Utah State University Extension ran a “gillyweed tournament” with submersible submarines in water tanks. 

Nyssa Fleig, the library program manager and deputy headmistress of “Hogwarts,” explained the thought process that went into planning OWL Camp. 

“Our primary goal is to help stop the summer slide,” she said. “A lot of kids get out of school in the spring and then they don’t have educational opportunities in the summer, so this is one opportunity to keep them engaged. All of the classes—although ‘Harry Potter’ based—are also STEAM based.”

So, while having a super-fan geek-out theme-park experience, kids at OWL Camp learned chemistry in Potions class, plant science in Herbology class, coding in Transfiguration class and poetry in Charms class. For the Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum, students learned taekwondo self-defense moves as well as coping strategies for depression, packaged as “patronuses” by Salt Lake County Youth Services. 

Fleig said that the event was library funded, and that “A lot of our classes were taught by our partners, which made it possible for us to do this for free.” She acknowledged Family Taekwondo, Leadership Taekwondo and the University of Utah Graduate Studies of Poetry, Salt Lake Astronomical Society, Hogle Zoo, Harold Weir Creations, Pins and Things YouTube Channel, Jessica Moody, Skymasters Wildlife Foundation, Scales and Tails, Candy Barrel, Crones Hollow, The King’s English, Day Murray Music and Backyard Parties as partners for this event, among those already referenced. 

Younger siblings who came to collect camp participants lamented that they weren’t allowed to come. 

“Eleven is about the right age to be left alone and to navigate through all the activities,” Library director Jim Cooper said. “We may consider expanding it in the future with a little more supervision.” 

Fleig added that the library use policy states that you have to be a certain age to be left unattended at the library, and it follows with the “Harry Potter” books.

“Harry was 11 when he got to go to Hogwarts,” Fleig said.