As summer heats up, so do district’s 21st Century camps


Ewan Bickford

Vedant Patel, a freshman at Auburn High School, assembles one of the Robomasters.

   Cars are lined up, ready to race. Their controllers at the ready, three…two…one…go! 

   And they’re off, racing down the long and leveled hallway. Who will win? Who will lose? One car pulls in front of another, securing a second place. It looks like a tie, until a winner pulls forward and wins the race. 

   All this excitement took place the week of August 9 at Jefferson High School during the  Engineering Camp, one of several workshops offered to RPS 205 students through the 21st Century Learning Centers Program.

Engineering camp students race robots in the Jefferson High School hallway. (Ella Gray)

   “We used the trucks and raced out in the hallway,” said Vedant Patel, a freshman at Auburn High School. “It was really cool and fun because we competed.”

  The aerial robotics and drones camp has a focus of making young adults interested in the makeup of drones and bots. 

   “[Everyday you] learn something new,” said Daniel Palafox, a senior at Jefferson High School. 

   Mr. Craig Stenberg, a Jefferson High School engineering teacher, has been overseeing this camp for nine years. The camp was virtual last year due to COVID-19, which Mr. Stenberg described as “weird.” Thankfully, this year the camp was able to take place in-person. 

   “It’s much better than last year. Last year was a lot tougher not being in person,” said Mr. Stenberg. “I don’t think this will ever be better virtually. This is the best way for our camp.” 

   One of the multiple projects being created at Jefferson High School are the Robo-Masters (or puppy dogs). The puppy dogs are programmed to drive around, play laser tag, and can even be programmed to follow a student. All of the students gave their creations nicknames such as “The Offical,” “Katrina,” “Meep,” and “Desert Storm.” 

   “They’re cool, [I like] just driving them around,” said Louisa Manfre, an exchange student from Brazil who will be a senior at Belvidere North High School. 

   One other project that the students are creating are drones. The drones are designed to fly around and flip over themselves. They also have created larger drones, called Mavic drones. Those drones are equipped with a better camera.

Engineering student practice flying drones on the Jefferson track. (Ella Gray)

   “We have three larger drones, they’re Mavic drones,” said Daniel Palafox, a senior at Jefferson High School. “They’re bigger, better. They got better cameras, longer distance, you can connect more stuff to it.” 

   The 21st Century Learning Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The summer camps in this year’s program include art, engineering, SAT prep, video production, and publications. The key components of this project are a strong connection with the classroom teacher and center staff and a focus on academics with enrichment activities and experiences.

   One of these camps is the art camp, taught by Mrs. Lisa Doll, Guilford art teacher, and Mrs. Lynn Stockton and Mrs. Gail Zernia, Jefferson art teachers. It focuses on drawing, painting, and journaling. 

   “I like the freedom that is involved in art, and the amount of paths that you can take,” said Max Stevens, Guilford junior.

Max Stevens details a dry pastel piece. (Maren Blakeney)

   The art camp took place virtually last year. Students were sent art supplies and joined in on Zoom calls. However, now that the camp is back in person, teachers say that it isn’t much different from previous years.

   “It’s about the same … initially we probably had more interest in it, because I think that people were ready to get out of the house,” said Mrs. Zernia. “It’s pretty much back on track except for the gear that we have to do and the precautions that we’re taking, which is getting us ready for the school year.”

   Students in their junior year will take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). This is the test that will be a make or break for some students’ college endeavors. The test is difficult, which is why some students find ways to prepare themselves for it. The 21st Century CCLC program offers free preparation courses for students in the RPS 205 district. Mrs. Sara Okey is in charge of the SAT camp in this program.

   “I always feel that students are looking forward to developing a holistic profile, and a good SAT score is one of the many facets that make up the whole student,” said Mrs. Okey. “I think that it’s important to make sure that you are well-rounded in any area, and when it comes to standardized tests they matter.”

   The students also seem to agree with Mrs. Okey on this. 

   “The test is really important,” said Miguel Almaza, junior at Jefferson High School. “It is something I need to put more work into over the summer.”

   Video editing is another one of the camps taking place at Jefferson. Students are learning how to add special effects and transitions onto videos.

   “I’ve always been interested in film and just video in general,” said Sophie Huggins, Auburn freshman. “I have a hobby of editing my friends’ YouTube videos.”

   In the video production process students use a green screen to create videos and use video editing software to create the final product. They’re being taught how to use the program and implement different capabilities into the video at key points.

   “I love video production! The reason I got started in it was because I liked to do it for fun on the side, and then it has grown into a side gig for me,” said Mr. Zachary Larson, who teaches journalism at Jefferson. “You really need to be able to know something well to be able to teach it, and so I think it helps me grow my skills.”

Mr. Zachary Larson oversees students working on their video production projects. (Ewan Bickford)

   Overall, teachers find it easier to work one-on-one with students at the summer camps because of the smaller groups.

   “I think that this is a great opportunity for students to be able to explore things that they don’t have time for during the regular school year,” said Mrs. Zernia. “I also believe that it’s a great opportunity for students to be able to get out of the house and explore various other areas that they might have an interest in, and be able to explore things that enrich their lives.”