Funded by a West Virginia Department of Education grant, a school-run, no-fee STEM Camp in Summers County has ignited a firestorm of enthusiasm in its 107 student participants.

So far this summer, campers have built oceans in a bottle, redesigned the Titanic to make it safer and created ice cream in a bag, all part of a range of hands-on projects under the camp’s overall theme, “Moving Mountains.”

All five of the county’s schools are participating in the four-week camp at Summers County High School, according to coordinator Christy Shafer.

"The kids are really enjoying meeting people from other schools and making new friends," Shafer said.

Part of the school system's tech team, Shafer is enthusiastic about the learning opportunities afforded by this camp.

“I love STEM,” she said, noting that her interest in conducting a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camp this year grew out of a robotics training session she attended in Charleston “on a whim” five years ago.

One of her goals for the upcoming school year is to get a robotics team up and running in the county, a project that was derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

The pandemic also plays a part in the camp’s curriculum of math, reading and science, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and journaling, Shafer said.

“We’re working to close the learning gap caused by Covid,” she pointed out. “The kids are building and creating; they’re really responding to this method of learning.”

Each week of the camp has its own geographic theme. Week one was “Camping in the Forest,” week two was “Camping in the Arctic, and week three was “Camping at the Beach.” After the long Fourth of July weekend, the camp’s fourth and final week will be “Camping in the Desert.”

Every weekday from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. (except this past Monday, which was a holiday), children and teens flock to the camp, most via school buses that make “community stops,” rather than going up and down every street in a neighborhood. Breakfast and lunch are provided to the campers each day.

In addition to the STEM workshops, campers have the benefit of daily exercise, led by one of Summers County’s physical education teachers. That teacher is but one of the 15 to 20 educators and aides staffing the camp, along with volunteers from 4-H and the REACCH program at Hinton’s Family Resource Center.

The campers aren’t the only ones getting an education at this summer camp. A group of third- and fourth-year Concord College education students helps out with the camp, getting their own first-hand experience as instructors, while paired with certified teachers.

This past week, as they were “Camping at the Beach,” during one project youngsters conducted experiments on objects floating in plain water, sugar water and salt water, Shafer said. They also created kinetic sand for their beach, among other activities.

The week prior to that — in the Arctic — they designed better life vests for the passengers aboard the Titanic, the doomed ocean liner, and built igloos.

“Watching them use their problem-solving skills is amazing,” Shafer said.

During Arctic week, young campers learned that male penguins carry their mate’s eggs on their feet as they tread across the ice. The second- and third-graders were so intrigued by the practice, they built something to help the father penguins with that task, Shafer said.

“They’re so creative,” she added.

Each day ends with a time for “journaling” — when older campers reflect and write about the experiences of the day, and younger ones draw images representing the lessons they learned.

“They’re each creating their own memory book of camp,” Shafer explained, acknowledging, “Most of them disliked that component of camp at first. But now they really look forward to it.”

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