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BROWNSVILLE, RGV – IDEA Public Schools announced the purchase of Camp RIO at the historic Lula Sams. The land will serve as an outdoor learning area for topics such as ecology and conservation of wildlife.

IDEA Public Schools partnered up with The Valley Land Fund, a non-profit organization committed to expanding and enhancing wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley, to preserve approximately 85 acres of land for years to come.

Camp RIO, at the historic Camp Lula Sams, was built by the Sams Foundation and gifted to the Girl Scouts of South Texas in 1953. According to Nancy Mance, director of programming at Camp RIO, the grounds operated under the Girl Scouts of South Texas until the 1990s. Mance said the land was sold to a group of environmentally-minded people who worked to preserve the land and operated a variety of programs for the next 20 years.

“One of the couples, [Dr. Patrick Burchfield, director at Gladys Porter Zoo, and Carol Moss], set out to raise funding for a conservation easement to find a buyer [because] they wanted to make sure the property would stay protected after they were long gone,” Mance said. “This was when IDEA became involved. … It has been a lifelong dream of mine to work outdoors in a place where I could teach kids about nature and all that it has to offer.”

One partner who played a part in the transition was East Foundation, another organization based in San Antonio supporting wildlife conservation. Tina Buford, the education project manager for East Foundation, is based out of Harlingen and said Camp RIO is a shining example of IDEA’s investment in their students’ future.

“Camp RIO is a new and fresh educational experience where by being inspired by the outdoors, students are more likely to understand science, math and literature,” Buford said. “Their experience at Camp RIO will not only help them become better students, [but] it will instill an appreciation of our natural world so as to the next generation of leaders, they will take an active approach in conserving our natural resources for generations to come.”

For the past year and a half, approximately 10,000 students across the Rio Grande Valley have participated in activities at Camp RIO. One student, Daniella Marquez, attended Camp RIO twice. Marquez participated in activities such as archery and throwing tomahawks. She also learned about topics in nature including habitation and plants.

“Since I’ve been to Camp RIO, I [have made connections] to my science class and learned about the importance of interacting with nature,” Marquez, the 5th grader from IDEA Brownsville said. “Since I’ve gone to Camp RIO, I [have] been spending more time outside with my little sisters and even gone on nature walks with my family. Camp RIO is a special place to me because it showed me to conquer my fears and overall an exciting and fun experience.”

IDEA’s Camp RIO will provide six week-long summer sessions for children from first grade through fifth grade and will be open to IDEA students and school groups across the RGV for pre-scheduled day visits. Some renovations include the swimming pool, a world class archery range, a fishing pond and several cabins. IDEA intends to incorporate overnight camping for students in 2018.