Sunday, April 14, 2024

W&M Hosts STEM Camp for Low-Income Students

Image courtesy
Image courtesy

A science, technology, engineering and math camp for low-income students concluded its summer session Saturday.

Hosted by the College of William & Mary and operated by its Center for Gifted Education, Camp Launch is a two-week program for low-income, high-achieving middle school student.

During the two-week session, students stay in residence halls, eat at the college dining halls and attend two three-hour blocks of STEM-related classes.

According to Dr. Mihyeon Kim, director of the center’s precollegiate learner programs, the camp’s instruction is twofold. In addition to exposing them to STEM fields, the camp hopes to foster personal development in students.

The three-hour blocks emphasized academic and personal education. In the morning block, students attended a STEM-related class of their choice, like engineering or lego robotics. The afternoon block focused on writing skills and future achievement. Seventh-grade students practiced narrative writing, while eighth-grade students worked on research papers. All students were encouraged to set future academic and character goals.

The camp is a relatively recent creation, but its roots stretch back more than 25 years. Kim said Summer Enrichment Programs began in 1988 for middle school students in the Richmond area, but gifted students from low-income families often could not afford to attend those fee-based programs.

The center began Camp Launch in 2012 with assistance from a $750,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Potential students are identified through household income and free and reduced lunch rates. Students must have a home income level of less than $45,000, and must attend local school districts with at least a 50 percent rate of free and reduced lunches. Transportation to Williamsburg is provided by the students’ school districts.

The local districts participating in the 2014 camp are Charles City, Franklin City, Hopewell, King and Queen, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond City, Sussex and Williamsburg-James City County.

Kim said the camp leaves a lasting impression on students.

“We do follow-up interviews after six months,” she said. “Students that maybe didn’t talk in class become more active in school because they’ve been around students like them. They set the goal of how to get to college.”

Richelle Joe, a camp counselor and Ph.D. candidate at William & Mary, agreed the camp made students consider getting a college degree as a worthwhile and attainable goal.

“This camp brings them together,” Joe said. “Being on a campus makes college real for them, seeing what it’s like. It makes it more tangible to them, instead of what they think it might be.”

Of the 86 students who attended the 2014 session, 32 were returning for a second year. However, Kim said the center would have to find additional funding sources to stage future camps. The Grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation expired after three years.

In the meantime, Kim said the camp had already made a difference for the students who attended the three sessions.

“Kids are asking, ‘Can we come back next year?’” she said. “We do only two weeks, but it does a lot more for these kids.”

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