From its start as an extended pilot program in 2017, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Camp for middle school students has made great strides in attendance and curriculum, giving CFISD students and staff another one of many camps and workshops throughout the summer.
Supported by district Title I funds, the camp completed its third year July 8-11 at Dean Middle School and Cypress Park High School. The camp drew from populations designated as economically-disadvantaged and expanded in its third year to include rising seventh-grade students in addition to rising eighth-grade students.
In all, 230 students attended the two sessions, nearly doubling attendance from 2018.
"Being able to bring in a new grade also meant new curriculum, but seeing the different mindsets and the opportunity to bring in more kids was phenomenal," said Derrick Crowder, an assistant principal at Dean Middle School and the camp's director. "We were able to develop something like the eighth-grade curriculum, with some added elements."
The camp originated as an opportunity for students who couldn't attend or afford a camp focusing on STEM, or any theme for that matter. In addition to taking advantage of nutrient-rich summer lunch already provided at both schools through the CFISD Nutrition Services' Seamless Summer Option, students were transported by school bus to and from camp, which ran from 9 a.m. until approximately 3 p.m. each day.
The days were filled with hands-on experiments, projects and other objectives related to STEM.
"The kids had a phenomenal time," Crowder said. "I can't say enough about the excitement of them being able to create things, being innovative and actually being able to show off their work. They're so excited just to talk about it."
"They get to take home everything they design with the camp being so hands-on, it goes back to the project-based learning - the kids are learning as they're developing and as they're going through the different techniques and strategies. They can become future innovators that can change the world."
Camp participants formed teams named after scholars and other notable figures in the STEM-related fields, rotating to different classrooms where they learned and worked on different experiments and projects. Topics covered included developing spy technology inventing and pitching new products and programming bots.
"I thought it was going to be more of us sitting down and talking about things, but we put things together, like making a robot, and did team building," said Raquel Hawk, an incoming seventh-grade student at Labay Middle School. "I enjoy working on things by myself but it's been fun working with others and people who like what I like."
Added Noah Wynn, an incoming eighth-grade student at Cook Middle School: "If you get the opportunity to come, you should absolutely take it. The activities are intriguing and interactive.
Teams were pieced together with students from different middle schools, helping those in attendance meet new friends and form new bonds. The teams also developed chants, which were performed on the final day.
"This is 'Opportunity for All.' This is that statement," Crowder said. "These are students who probably wouldn't have the opportunity to experience any sort of camp like this. And with use being at two campuses, we're covering the entire district. This is that opportunity for those students and their families who maybe couldn't afford a STEM program. They have it here."