SALAMANCA, N.Y. — The fact that Salamanca’s City School District just finished up its third annual STEAM Camp Summer School amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a tribute to the value of teacher innovation and community relationships.
Every year, Salamanca City School District offers a variety of summer programs that provide science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) enrichment to prevent summer learning loss.
“One of the goals of STEAM Camp is to help bridge the gap that exists between school and summer break,” said STEAM Coordinator Aaron Straus. “These hands-on activities allow them to get immersed in a variety of different Science and Technology experiences that will prepare them for the academic school year.”
The STEAM Camp program was started in 2017 when Salamanca teachers saw a need to connect the disciplines in a non-traditional school setting.
“Teachers of all different subjects got together in a room with post-it notes after school, not sure where this journey would take us,” commented Straus. “We put all our ideas on the board and from there, the vision for STEAM Camp was born.”
This year, due to the COVID-19 closures and safety regulations for school, the district had to think outside the box to still deliver the same level of quality programming.
With four weeks to go until camps were scheduled to start, Salamanca schools were determined to still offer summer programming for their students and looked to distance learning alternatives that could replicate the experience from home.
“Several HS teachers were lucky to attend a technology teachers conference last year, one of the nation’s last in-person teachers’ meetings before this pandemic hit. National Inventors Hall of Fame was there with a vendor table,” said Straus. “The museum is a not-for-profit organization that also ships STEM activities directly to students’ homes. I thought, STEAM Kits shipped directly to the students’ homes? That is exactly what we need!”
The STEAM Camp team immediately reached out to the museum for more information about the program.
During STEAM Camp 2020, Salamanca staff sent consumable “kit” packages directly to the campers’ homes filled with exciting materials such as robots, heliballs, and rockets. Meanwhile, STEAM Camp teachers facilitated camp instruction over Zoom. Through the STEAM Camp, “Invention Champions,” Seneca Intermediate campers discovered the great inventors behind their favorite sports.
“They traded inventor playing cards, created and played high-energy hover-ball games, and designed and built the ultimate sports complex,” said sixth grade science teacher Annie Kostrzewski.
“In the Design Thinking STEAM Camp, Salamanca campers learned the value of their creativity as they brought their biggest ideas to life. “To become successful entrepreneurs, new business leaders compose sketches, build prototypes, and design logos,” commented camp registrar and special education teacher Tammy Levine. “Our STEAM Camp explored how to market a product while protecting intellectual property.”
Meanwhile, in STEAM Rescue Squad, students learned about the Earth’s ecosystems.
“These were inspiring activities where students explored energy conservation, eliminating pollution and helping wildlife in habitats across the country,” commented Spanish teacher Naudia Kohler.
Not all the distance learning camps were created in partnership with the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Inspired by the cross-curricular foundation of STEAM Camp’s past, Seneca Intermediate STEAM teachers Amy Witman and Brook Skiba also developed a distance-learning music and art camp. Students used kit supplies delivered to their homes to build and paint custom ukuleles while they learned basic notes and created an original song.
However, according to computer science teacher Dr. Graham Hayes, the capstone of 2020 distance STEAM Camps was Flight Lab. In Flight Lab, children explored the principles of flight with the assistance of robots.
The months of planning and dedication was not always easy. Because changing regulations caused the planning team to adapt, change, or altogether scrap renditions of 2020 camp plans, there were a lot of logistics to move forward with the camp.
“One concern was that we had triple the registrants than expected for a distance learning camp,” said Straus. “This is always a good thing when you know your community is excited for the program that the district offers.”
Salamanca STEAM Summer School Camps are scheduled to return next summer — the district hopes in person — but in the intermediate time, students can look forward to new distance Camp Invention clubs, science class, and the EDEP Vex Robotics program, offered at distance throughout the school year.
“We are very fortunate to work with a forward-thinking, central administration here that is very supportive of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math & Art,” said Straus. “I would especially like to thank all our parents and teachers for the flexibility and grace they extended to us as we planned this, for the first time, at a distance.”