Innovative Camp Leads Students Surprised And A Step Ahead

By Catherine Bialkowski

This summer, Mt. Olive District hosted its annual educational summer camp, “Innovation Station,” for children entering first through ninth grades. The subjects taught are all related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas of study, which, while sometimes challenging, are an important part of modern schooling.

The camp, offered in July and again in August, was a raging success for both the students who attended. There were about 200 campers per week as well as teachers who shared their knowledge with the children.

This year’s director, Peter Hughes, was filled with positive remarks about the program.

“As the director, I got to see the quality of the laughter, learning, and smiles that this camp generated, and that was by far the most rewarding part,” he says.

“My goal is to give kids the most experiences for the money, and I think we do just that,” he says. “We don’t seek to make a profit on this camp; we seek to funnel every dollar back into making the experience great for our kids.”

Among the types of programs offered this year were “Digging in the Dirt,” in which campers learned about the ecosystem of dirt, bugs, and plants; “Minecraft,” in which campers used the popular computer game to learn about engineering and 3D environments; “Lights, Camera, Action,” a film-themed class during which children wrote scripts and edited footage; and “Lift Off With Rockets,” an exciting course all about physics and the science of flight.

“I believe that the STEM subjects are an integral part of our future economy,” says Hughes. “A large part of our history as America has revolved around the fact that we have freedom and the ability to be innovators.

“We have led the world in innovation, design, entrepreneurship, and creativity,” he continues. “I think that these are American values and that the STEM initiative is about preserving the future for our children. I truly believe that this is not just about getting a good job when they are older, it is about being a world leader in designing the future of our children and the country they will inherit.”

While most of the programs were obviously incredibly fun for the students, it was clear to those running the camp that they were also learning a lot – perhaps without even knowing it. One of the most popular courses, entitled “Filming the Zombie Apocalypse,” allowed middle-schoolers to create their own movies, including DIY props, costumes, and makeup looks. Younger children acted as extras in the movies, and there was even a predetermined “Zombie Day” with a spooky costume contest. While this was clearly a whole lot of fun, the students picked up valuable skills in video and sound editing, as well as filmmaking.

Hughes’ favorite moment came during one of the MineCraft classes.

“We had our own server that was only accessible to our kids, and they created their own worlds and rules for those worlds that their friends could enter into,” says Hughes. “It caused all sorts of learning as students learned that when they gave full control to their friends, their friends sometimes used that power to be destructive by blowing up their worlds. The students were not only learning valuable skills in STEM areas, but life lessons as well.

“It was kind of like stepping on your friend’s sand castle when we were kids,” he says. “There were real social problems that it caused and kids had to ultimately learn teamwork skills, net-etiquette, and conflict resolution from the experience.”

All in all, the STEM camp offered by Mt. Olive public schools this year was a success from all standpoints. According to some of those involved in prior years, it was the best so far. The experience – for child and instructor alike- was “completely unique and really surprising.”

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