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McClintock Middle offers cutting-edge tech camp at no charge

Nadiya Hamrick, a rising sixth-grader decked out in purple-and-pink shades, a T-shirt and sneakers, had no interest in going to science camp.

But she says she’s glad her mom signed her up for McClintock Middle School’s two-week Summer Science Experience, where she designed radio-controlled race cars, worked on a flight simulator and programmed computers.

“You get to change tires and drive the cars and race and be competitive,” Nadiya said.

That’s the kind of enthusiasm teachers and volunteers hope to generate as McClintock gears up to start school in a new building, with a theme emphasizing robotics, science, math and engineering.

During two sessions of summer camp, about 200 students got a jump on the project-based tech work they’ll tackle when school starts Aug. 26. They used the kind of technology – from 3-D printers they built from a kit to Raspberry Pi computers not much bigger than a pack of cards – normally found only in private schools or camps that cost upward of $500 a week.

It was all free to students and their families, thanks to McClintock Partners in Education, or McPIE, a partnership with Christ Lutheran Church. Church volunteers held their first summer camp seven years ago with 20 kids in the church gym. Now they’ve got a Burroughs Wellcome Fund grant that covers about $60,000 to hire teachers, buy supplies, provide transportation and pay for field trips.

More than 80 percent of McClintock students come from low-income homes. Yet the southeast Charlotte school boasts championship robotics teams and a slate of after-school clubs designed to open students’ eyes to the kind of work that can move them into high-paying careers.

“This doesn’t just change what you do,” says science and robotics teacher David Taylor. “This changes your family’s direction for the future.”

The evolution of McClintock illustrates the type of transformation Superintendent Heath Morrison is pushing all schools to explore in the coming year. The science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, theme came not from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administration but from an experiment launched by faculty and community partners. In 2007, volunteers from Christ Lutheran launched weekly family nights, bringing parents and students in for dinner and education.

Then-Principal Pamela Espinosa talked Taylor into starting an engineering club as part of the family-night roster. The church brought in engineers to offer ideas and expertise. Students flocked to the club.

The school now boasts an impressive array of partnerships, including “connections with almost all the colleges in the area,” Taylor says. Charlotte Latin School, a private school with an engineering program, has offered support and expertise. Nearby Providence Day School sends high school volunteers. NASCAR’s Ten80 student racing program gives students a look at fast cars and the careers connected with racing.

Teachers have gotten energized. They’ve raised a total of $100,000 pitching small classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org, an online fund-raising network for teachers.

The summer camp took place at nearby Rama Road Elementary, as Principal Paul Williams and his crew prepare the new McClintock building for opening day. Adolescents who might otherwise have spent their summers playing video games instead learned to create them.

“Instead of just being consumers,” said science teacher George Beyer, “these guys are going to be producers.”

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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