Summer Camps Ignite Curiosity and Foster Learning in Kern County

Wednesday July 3, 2024

The Kern County Superintendent of Schools (KCSOS) is once again hosting its highly anticipated summer camps, drawing nearly 4,000 students from across the county. Taking place at three unique sites—California Living Museum (CALM), Kern County Museum and the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History—these camps offer an engaging mix of education and fun, with a strong emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics).

The STEAM and Expanded Learning team, composed of Jamie Viveros, Valerie Perez and Michelle Roy, created the lesson plans and oversaw the camps at each site.

Viveros explains that each camp day is carefully structured to provide a dynamic learning experience. Mentors rotate the students through different activities each day, all designed to be interactive and fun.

At the Kern County Museum, students delve into physical science, architecture, printmaking, theater and more. More than 200 third through eighth graders visit the site daily. At the Laurie Brock Children’s Center, 120 kids from kindergarten through second grade are present each day.

Students build their own winch out of common materials.

Some lessons build on each other, allowing students to expand on what they learned the previous day. For example, kids who learn what an engineering winch does on the first day are designing and building their own winches before the end of the week.

Over at CALM, the focus shifts to life science and biology. Kids learn about the various animals at the zoo, all native to California, and their habitats. They also create art projects, practice coding skills, and learn to use a microscope.

“They’re learning about biotic and abiotic factors, applying that to some of the microscopic things that they’ll be looking at over the course of the week,” said science coordinator Michelle Roy. “And then it builds to culminate at the end of the week where they’re actually using the microscopes to look at some pond water.”

Students learn how to use microscopes to look at microbiomes in pond water.

At the Buena Vista Museum students work on projects like coding Sphero robots to navigate mazes, creating working Mars rovers from simple materials, and creating a model of a human lung using a water bottle and a balloon.

Perez highlights the integration of hands-on activities with the museum’s exhibits. She says many students have never left their hometown before and have no experience outside the classroom.

“We’ve basically broken down the walls of the classroom. Not only can you do these hands-on lessons here, but it’s like an immersive experience because you can take a look at what the museum has to offer, and then a lesson ties in with that,” she said. “It’s very engaging.”

The camps also feature some of the latest technology, like 3D modeling and augmented reality (AR). At the Kern County Museum, students use free software called TinkerCAD to design objects and buildings they find and then bring these designs to life using AR. Similarly, at the Buena Vista Museum, kids use CoSpaces to design a historically accurate Native American Yokuts village.

“We ask them to create a Yokuts village and then when they’re done creating that environment, they can view that environment in augmented reality. So they can take the digital component and bring it into our environment,” Perez said.

Students create digital Yokuts village and view it in Augmented Reality.

Mario Gallardo, a project facilitator for STEAM and Expanded Learning, underscores the importance of these camps in sparking a lifelong interest in STEAM fields. They introduce students to concepts like coding and engineering at an early age, which can influence their future career paths.

“Having the physical thing that they’re coding and seeing move in real life, it’s a great experience for the kids,” he said. “We have been able to see that those lessons, those skills we’re instilling early, have carried on.”

Perez agrees, saying today it’s especially valuable to give the kids hands-on interactive STEAM lessons.

“We feel like it’s a much more engaging way to prepare them than giving them a textbook,” she said. “It’s never too early to start planting those seeds within our students to take an interest in [STEAM].”

The expanded learning team hired 95 young adults as mentors to bring these concepts to life and guide the kids through the lessons at each of the sites. The mentors, many of whom are pursuing degrees in education and science, play a crucial role in making these lessons engaging and memorable.

“Big shout out to the mentors. They are the heart of the program because the students are most excited to see them week after week. They’re the ones really enriching that experience for them,” Gallardo said.

Gallardo and the team want to encourage anyone who is interested in STEAM or wants to pursue a career in teaching apply to be a mentor for future summer and winter STEAM camp programs.

“I’ve been able to come back summer after summer through the school year working with the students and it’s been really fulfilling,” he said.

Mentors lead students through various STEAM activities.

This year, KCSOS has made a special effort to include homeless and foster youth, with 50 students from this demographic participating. Experts such as social workers and mentors trained in trauma-informed care are on hand to ensure each child’s needs are accommodated.

Kern County Superintendent Dr. John Mendiburu emphasizes the camps’ transformative impact, especially on children who may not have experienced anything like this before.

“Not only does it give them something educational to explore and examine during the summer months, but it also provides them an opportunity to go deeper into the STEAM concepts that may be beyond everyday classrooms,” he said. “It gives them an inspiration, what they can look forward to as they start entering junior high and have much more appreciation and understanding of what STEAM really means.”

From exploring sound waves with tuning forks to building Mars rovers, the KCSOS summer camps provide a rich, hands-on learning environment that goes beyond traditional classroom education. Whether they know it or not, students are learning about complex concepts through fun, interactive activities. They leave camp not only with new knowledge but also with a newfound love for learning.

“That goes far beyond numbers. When you see just the smiles on their faces, their willingness to want to learn, they’re completely engaged. That is such a huge reward,” Perez said.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.