Summer camps integrate STEAM programs


Alexa Doiron

At Belle Heth Elementary, students in the summer camps programs are taken into nature to perform science experiments and understand the world around them. Some of the activities involve cleanup efforts, nature hikes, or making their own solar-powered oven.

The summer camps program just ended their second year this past week at Belle Heth and McHarg Elementary. The program is funded through a state grant and has replaced the summer school sessions from past years. In the programs, students are able to participate in hands-on learning activities, with a focus on STEAM incentives.

STEAM programs focus on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. These are developed to target the skills for industries predicted to grow in the near future. In order to harness these skills, kids are able to participate in fun learning activities that get them out of the house for the summer.

The STEAM program is in its second year in the Radford school system and this year the summer program made more of an effort to integrate it said Mike Brown, principle of McHarg Elementary. Many of the teachers and administration see the benefits of this program every day in the classroom and during the summer camps.

Summer camps programs offer a wide range of activities for students from swim classes to cheerleading camps. Rachel Kessler, a 6th grade teacher, leads the cheerleading camps during the summer to help teach safety in the sport.

“It’s just magic,” said Brown. “The children are so engaged. It really just makes learning fun. And what happens is the children are solving problems, they’re creating things, and it’s just so different from the traditional curriculum.”

Some of the activities that the students do at the pre-school level use literacy and hands-on work in conjunction in order to reach every learning objective. For example, the students will read a book about boats and then construct their own boats and see if they float. In doing activities such as this one, teacher Nicole Watson says that students are learning how to try, fail, and try again.

Other activities involve more computer-focused work such as projects in coding or playing with the new robots at Belle Heth Elementary. Introducing students to technology a one of the initiatives of the program, said Belle Heth teacher, Jenny Zeinius.

At Belle Heth, the students are able to interact with the new Dash and Dot robot, which is programed from the classroom’s iPad, and allows students to interact with coding language while having fun. These new technological skills are necessary for the job force the students will be entering, says Brown. That is one of the reasons the push for STEAM programs has become so prominent in the past years.

Students at Belle Heth Elementary use the skills taught in the STEAM program during summer camps to help maintain what they’ve learned during the school year. The activities involve emphasis on group work and problem solving while giving children a fun experience.

The schools are now growing the program in different ways, such as introducing new STEAM-focused lesson plans for the teachers and professional development opportunities for the staff as well. For the students, McHarg is taking further steps by developing a dedicated STEAM room and renovating the computer room into a STEAM activity lab.

The schools hope to implement even more technology into the curriculum as time goes on in order to give the students more experience. The summer camps allow students to get even more interaction with technology, as well as use some devices before any of their fellow students. It is an advantage that the summer camps promote because it helps to develop more than one aspect of STEAM skills by using Minecraft programs or learning how to create art on Microsoft Paint, said Zeinius.

“It’s different from the school year,” said Zeinius. “Even though we do a lot of these things during the year, it’s a little bit less structured at summer camp. Here you can do and try new things, you can feel things out such as new technology for the upcoming year.”

The students also have the opportunity to take part in the cheerleading or swimming summer camps. These diverse activities allow students to participate athletic events and with new groups of students from different ages.

“It’s neat to see the children working together in cooperative groups,” said Karen Radford, a pre-school teacher at McHarg. “Children get to interact with other children that they might not have the chance to during the school year.”

All of these camps are funded by the Virginia Department of Education through the Extended School Year Grant. The grant has allowed the schools to keep expanding on their programs and offer even more to students.

One of the activities that allow the students to have interaction outside the classroom is the Movers Program at Belle Heth. This program teaches students how to use science in the environment, such as learning how to bake a pizza with a hand-made solar-powered oven, or going on hikes around the area.

These programs help to prevent what teachers call “the summer slide”— where students lose valuable skills during the summer months because they aren’t putting them to use. Summer camps allow students to get extra use of their school skills in fun and interactive ways in order to give an extra push of the skills learned during school.

“During the summer, our camps try to reinforce the skills and the content they receive during the school year so they don’t experience that typical summer slide when they come back in August,” Brown said.

Many of the staff and administration are grateful for the grants that allow the camps to happen, said Brown. It is clear to see the difference in students when they come back to school in the fall.

“The conversations I’m hearing from five, six, and seven year olds, it’s just magic to listen to that and hear how they’re thinking,” Brown said. “To hear how they’re solving problems and the products they come up with using math, using engineering, using the arts and technology, it’s just very positive.”