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Johnson City students blow off STEAM this summer — by learning

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Jun 10, 2019 at 7:11 PM

Even though it’s summer break for many students, more than 200 third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the Johnson City School System are getting some extra education in a program that’s starting to pick up some STEAM.

For four years, North Side Elementary School has played host to a summer camp teaching children STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) skills. For the last two years, the camp was so popular organizers had to cap the number of students allowed at 180 — meaning many were turned down. This year though, things have changed, and now every student has an opportunity to attend the one-week camp — all 250 of them.

“It’s invaluable for us to maintain interest (over summer break) so our students come back to school in the fall excited and ready for what’s coming up,” said Carleton Lyon, instructional technology coach with Johnson City Schools and one of the driving forces behind the program.

When the first STEAM camp was held in 2016, just 90 students participated in the weeklong program. The number of students attending doubled to 180 in 2017, which forced the program to implement a cap on the number of students allowed. After two years of turning down students when the camp reached capacity though, the city schools, with the help of Northwestern Mutual, expanded the camp from just a single week to two weeks. Now the district can accept all students and expand the number of courses offered.

“It’s just an exciting week of enrichment for students across Johnson City,” said Chelsea Lee, a third- and fourth-grade math teacher who teaches a course that shows students how to fly and program drones.

“I feel like we are helping students see different fields that they can go into in the future,” she said. “We’re helping them in jobs that haven’t even been created yet, that will be created when they get older.”

The STEAM camp is entirely free for students and runs Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. More than 130 students attended week one, and more than 100 signed up this week.

During their time at the camp, students attend three 50-minute classes and start their day by building a roller coaster out of paper, with a goal to keep a metal ball moving constantly for as long as possible, and helping students learn to work in groups and communicate effectively. Students work in rotations — meaning they work with the same 10 to 12 students all week — with each rotation building their own roller coaster. 

“It’s a mixture of ages, and so they get to learn from each other and it’s interesting to see the development of different ages,” said Nancy Miles, a fourth-grade math teacher who teaches “Kitchen Chemistry” during the camp.

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