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Science in disguise — Robot camp exposes kids to science

By By Marta Tankersley
Staff writer

If you think it might be tough to get kids interested in learning something — anything — during the long, hot, carefree days of summer, well, maybe you haven’t tried robots.

“We built a Lego toy monkey and it was moving!” said eight-year-old Jaela Saunders, squealing with excitement.

She is one of several dozen kindergarten through middle school students at a NASA Summer of Innovation camp on robotics and rocketry camp going on this week at the East End Family Resource Center (EEFRC).

“It was my dream to get more kids exposed to science,” said Melissa Hill, executive director of the Metropolitan Community Development Corporation, who was instrumental in securing AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to help with the camp.

“Virtually all of West Virginia is under-served in the science, technology, engineering and math fields — regardless of their race. There is a shortage of STEM workers throughout the U.S. and I’m hoping this camp will expose, and hopefully inspire children to discover more about these fields and career paths,” she added.

NASA Educator Resource Center workers Darek Czarnecki, a New Jersey native, and Michael Lyden, who hails from Fairmont, teamed up to teach.

“It’s important for us to serve the under-served,”said Czarnecki, who has been working in the Mountain State for seven years. “The robotics kits and training are provided free of charge.”

Ten-year-old twins Cheyenne and Devonn Haston appeared to be soaking up the science.

“I like that it’s so unique and every robot is [programed] different,” Cheyenne said. “I’ve learned that when we work together, we can fix things.

“Teamwork gets things done.”

Cheyenne wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up and Devonn wants to be an astronaut.

“It’s so important to expose children to these possibilities now so they will realize they can go beyond customer-service jobs,” Hill said. “They need to visualize themselves as analysts and coordinators in the STEM professions.

“Here we are teaching them a specific skill set that includes critical thinking, teamwork, project management, solution development and civic engagement,” she continued.

The children have learned how robots are used in storm research and other practical applications they can relate with on a specific level, she said.

Although Mickeal Sinclair, 9, still wants to be a football player when he grows up, he said making the robots has been “very creative and fun.”

“I learned that you can make toys that spin and move with electronics,” Mickeal said. “Maybe I’ll work in a STEM job after all.”

The camp, which wraps up Friday, is one of several camps run by the EEFRC.

Art and Music Camp is scheduled June 23 to 27.

“Our music mentor and a guest musician will be teaching our students on the keys, drums and recorders,” said after school director Renee Garland. “They will perform at the close of our camps on June 27 at 7 p.m.

“They are also getting art projects ready for the Art Festival sale on Capital Street June 28 and 29.”

Although another summer camp is not scheduled at this time, Garland is working on finding a sponsor for a camp directed at middle school and high school-aged children in July. The facility, funded with federal grants, private donations and fund raisers, provides meals and a wide range of activities including sports and fitness; homework help and tutoring; family fun nights; mentoring; lessons in art, music and gardening; a computer lab that is open to the public; and summer camps — all free of charge, Garland said.

The center opens to the public at noon Monday through Friday, whether they are hosting a camp or not, she said. People are able to use the gym and computer labs, and meals are provided daily.

“I truly thank God for the East End Family Resource Center because it is such a honor to do what we do here,” Garland said. “We are just a tree blossoming on the east side of Charleston.”

They also provide training for staff.

“As a Child Nutrition site, we feed needy children all year round,” she said.

In the summer months when camps are running, they offer breakfast, lunch and a snack. On off weeks when there are no camps scheduled, the Center opens at noon and prepares lunch and an afternoon snack. During the school year, they provide a snack and evening meal.

“It really brings joy to my life,” she said. “Working here has allowed me to help people in ways that I would have never dreamed of.

“It is like ministering — doing unto others as you would have them do unto you — and serving your community. It is a life changing experience.”

The East End Family Resource Center is free and open to the public.

For more information on arts camp and other services offered through the center, call (304) 344-1656 or visit the facility, located at 502 Ruffner St. in Charleston.

Hill hopes to bring community classes for high school students to Charleston this fall. For more information contact her at (304) 342-4775.

Reach Marta Tankersley at marta.tankersley@wvgazette.com or 304-543-4676.


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