Extreme Science Camp combines learning, fun

Andrew Allred, Nolan Smith and Maverick Pasenelli appear to be delightedly disgusted after finding a cracked egg in their padded container they hoped would withstand a drop from the top of a fire ladder. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — As is often the case with brothers of a certain age, 5-year-old Thomas Stanley and older brother Dominic, 9, don’t always see eye-to-eye.

Every now and then, however, the pair will find themselves in agreement when it comes to doing something fun. Asked what they enjoyed the most about participating in this summer’s Extreme Science Camp — a yearly program that offers kids an outlet for their inquisitive minds for the first three weeks of summer — both Thomas and Dominic cited an activity that involved an electric toothbrush, a pool noodle and three crayola markers. Combine the three elements together, and you have a “scribble bot,” a homemade robot that colors on its own.

“My favorite part of Science Camp was building the scribble bot,” Thomas explained. “I also liked making the birdhouses. And I liked making the telescopes that make you see a lot of things that are the same.”

Thomas’ mother Ashley Stanley clarified that the soon-to-be first-grader actually meant kaleidoscopes, yet another project campers were tasked with. With three sons at this year’s camp — 7-year-old Jaxon was also in the mix — Ashley said the camp was nothing short of amazing.

“My kids came home every day with so many gadgets and science-related things,” she said. “They learned so much, and enjoyed every minute of their time there.”

Providing a healthy

learning environment

It’s not every summer program that can get students excited about extending their school year by three weeks, though Extreme Science Camp has accomplished exactly that. Its ninth summer now in the books, the program routinely boasts an enrollment of more than 100, made up of students from Evanston’s four elementary schools. The camp runs Monday through Thursday for the first three weeks of June, supplying a healthy lunch and a positive learning environment, free of charge.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide fun and engaging opportunities that enhance academic achievement and proficiency,” said program director Tamra Petersen. “[We want to] complement school-based programs and what is taught during the regular-school day, in a way that looks and feels different than what is experienced in a traditional classroom.”

Extreme Science Camp — along with Camp Imagination, a literacy-based camp for students in grades first through third — is made possible through a partnership between the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant (21CCLC), Uinta B.O.C.E.S. #1 Education Center and Uinta County School District No. 1.

Currently, there are 21CCLC programs at all four of Evanston’s elementary schools, ECDC and the Evanston Youth Club — as well as several academic support opportunities at Davis and Evanston Middle Schools.

Initially, grant funds were primarily intended to serve students during the ‘high-risk’ afterschool hours, with the goal of providing a safe and positive environment for students. The grant has since evolved, and now strives to provide academic, artistic and recreational opportunities in order to meet state and local academic standards.

“The majority of our funding comes from a competitive grant award process through the Wyoming Department of Education,” Petersen explained. “Since the grant’s inception nearly 20 years ago, our community has opted to collaborate to apply for funding to complement opportunities and best meet the needs of students.”

Making summer

learning fun

Instructors for Extreme Science Camp are recruited from the ranks of Evanston’s elementary and middle schools. Petersen said finding teachers interested in participating has never been an issue, with many returning year after year.

“I am so lucky to work with such awesome teachers,” she said. “They are truly the ones who make our camps so successful and are the reason our campers have so much fun. You hear lots of stories about kids who are dealing with difficult situations at home, and I am grateful we can offer such a positive opportunity for them to be safe, learn and have fun.”

Lonna Holt — a 5th-grade teacher at Uinta Meadows Elementary — has been an instructor at the camp for eight years. She said the most rewarding part of teaching science in the summer is simple — the fun factor.

“The kids want to be there,” she explained. “They come back to school during summer break! We get to teach science concepts in a very fun and interactive way. We make messes. We laugh. We try things out and fail and we laugh and learn from it and let me tell you, I’ve had some epic and messy fails.”

For her part, Petersen said the most challenging aspect of the camp is developing new and exciting activities each year. Lesson plans are designed around a different STEM concept for each day, with a minimum of three daily projects. Lessons and activities are also tailored to different ages and abilities.

“There is always a lot of prep, and a lot of thought and research that goes into developing relevant and age-appropriate experiences,” she said. “We have a lot of students who attend year after year, so my goal is to find the balance between making camp feel fresh and new, yet keep the ‘favorites’ intact.”

Clark Elementary 5th grade teacher Erika George was one of five first-time instructors this summer, Natalie Mackey, Hailey Hicks, Jocelyn Anderson EMS English teacher Aimee Cogger. George got involved at the suggestion of her husband, Tim, a six-year veteran of the camp. For her, the most enjoyable aspect of the camp was the connections she made with teachers and students.

“I was able to work with teachers and students that I wouldn’t get to work with otherwise,” she said. “The most challenging aspect was still having to set an alarm and get up at a decent hour on summer break.”

Fellow first-timer Cogger agreed.

“Honestly, connecting with students was huge — it went beyond science,” she said. “Most of these kids I’ll see in a few years at EMS, and it will be nice to have those built-in relationships.”

Keeping kids engaged

One highlight of the camp each summer is the Egg Drop Challenge, an activity that requires students to find creative ways to protect an egg. Students are broken up into teams, with each team tasked with designing a ‘habitat’ for their egg; the Evanston Fire Department is on hand to assist in the experiment, dropping each egg from a certain height on the ladder truck.

“The Egg Drop is always a favorite,” Petersen said. “When the kids design a ‘habitat’ for their egg, designed to withstand a fall to the Clark parking lot from the ladder truck...The pride they have when they unwrap their uncracked egg is pretty special.”

Other activities include making marshmallow launchers, designing birdhouses and rubber band cars, along with a variety of ‘simple’ machines. Students also make tye-dyed T-shirts and tape art.

“The kids make something they can take home and experiment with every day (usually several somethings),” Holt said. “We also have so much support from our director, Tamra [Petersen]. If we need anything she is right there to help us figure it out. She really is the glue that holds this program together.”

Next summer’s camp is already in the planning stages, and Ashley Stanley said her three boys are definitely looking forward to returning.

“We were all sad to see the science school days come to an end, and we genuinely can’t wait to participate in this again next summer,” she said. “I hope that this is something that will continue to be offered in our community — it was so beneficial for the children who participated.”

And for soon-to-be 4th grader Dominic Stanley, the opportunity to continue building robots and simple machines — as well as escape his younger siblings for a few hours each day — is worth the wait.

“I enjoyed it a lot, it was fun,” he said. “We learned things, and did tons of activities and made fun stuff to play with. Which is good, because if you have younger siblings, they break your stuff.”

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