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Posted: Monday, Apr. 26, 2010

A science-savvy summer for students

By Celeste Smith
Published in: Summer Camp Fund
  • The Summer Camp Fund needs the public's help to send more kids to camp. Send your tax-deductible donations to: The Summer Camp Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, N.C. 28237-7269.

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    Partners in Out-of-School Time is on a push to help children learn more about science, technology and their environment year-round, not just when they are in class.

    The Charlotte-based nonprofit trains after-school care providers who work with students. Science and tech-themed training topics can range from workshops on taking apart and reassembling a bicycle, to discussions on astrobiology and life beyond our planet.

    Now, the nine-year-old POST is extending its science reach into the summertime.

    It's happening through The Summer Camp Fund, an initiative by POST and The Charlotte Observer. The fund provides scholarships for children from low-income families to attend camp, where they can experience the outdoors in a safe, structured environment.

    All the camp sites in the program have a strong focus on science, technology and/or environmental learning. And that's intentional, says Claire Tate, POST executive director. She says learning about science and the environment is as important to the summer camp experience as swimming, fishing, and cabin life.

    "From the very basic kind of experience of seeing a sunset and understanding that those colors are caused by the rays of the sun and different particles in the air, that's science," Tate said. "Almost every experience can and should be connected with science, because science is the principle on which our world operates."

    One of The Summer Camp Fund sites, a nature-themed 4-H camp in Raleigh, will host campers from Catawba County. The children must attend workshops on science and the environment beforehand in order to go, says Donna Mull, 4-H agent for Catawba County.

    Mull says the workshops are meant to be fun: a previous one involved crafting ways to cushion an egg so it wouldn't break when dropped from a fire escape. The workshops are also a way to encourage children to join 4-H groups in the county - and learn about science-related fields that appeal to them.

    Other camp sites include uptown Charlotte's Discovery Place, where campers have experimented with making tornadoes in a bottle. At the Girl Scouts' Camp Golden Valley in Rutherford County, campers use compasses for geocaching to find hidden items. Kids at Camp Grier, which borders the Pisgah National Forest, get into plant identification.

    POST works with children and schools primarily in Mecklenburg County. It has an annual $1.2 million budget from private donations and public funds.

    Tate said one of the science programs launched last year, called Leaf & STEM, helped attract more science-savvy camp sites to The Summer Camp Fund. The leaf is for outdoor education, and the acronym represents science, technology, engineering and math. The program provided free curriculum and training to 239after-school providers, who in turn taught at least 1,070 students.

    POST also provides instructors with training through the national Great Science for Girls program, designed to attract more girls to the field. Instructors return to their sites to share the lessons with boys and girls.

    "These opportunities are not only engaging, but they absolutely connect young people to possible careers," Tate said. "If they don't have a chance, they don't know if they love it or that they're very good at it."

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