STARS reaches for the kids

The clamor of student voices on campus may be at a higher pitch than normal throughout June as USF’s student population will be bolstered by the involvement of approximately 120 elementary school children in Space Jam, a summer camp designed to instruct children about some of the more advanced concepts of science in a fun and exciting way.

The purpose of this summer camp is to supplement the existing science curriculum of elementary schools as well as nurture awareness and fondness for science in children.

“What I’ve noticed is some of the children are surprised to find how much fun learning can be,” said Cheriese Edwards, program coordinator.

Space Jam is the third annual science summer camp organized by Students, Teachers and Resources of the Sciences, or STARS. Classes for grades three thru five will be held in the Social Sciences building from June 13 to June 24 and will feature field trips to MOSI and Kennedy Space Center.

STARS was created by several USF engineering professors who felt that the higher concepts of science ought to be available to everyone regardless of their financial situation. Partnering with the College of Education and the Institute on Black Life, STARS earned a grant from the National Science Foundation for the purpose of reaching out to students.

During the academic year, STARS members, known as fellows, spend 10 to 15 hours a week at five different elementary schools in the area. There they develop lesson plans to simplify concepts like nanotechnology and rocketry, train instructors in the material and then serve as teachers to the students.

“(Teaching students) does bring me a lot of personal gratification,” said Tino Cash, a graduate student and member of STARS.

The aim of the science camp is for children to get hands-on experience in science concepts. This year’s focus was on space, so concepts such as robotics, space craters and space food are in the curriculum.

“At first, it was hard because (these concepts) might come at a high level, but the way we’ve worked on it made it understandable,” said Wandaliz Torres, a STARS member who is working on a doctorate in industrial engineering.

Since children may attend summer camps more than once, it is important to keep the curriculum fresh. Last year, the camp’s focus was on water, dealing with topics such as conservation, while the first summer camp dealt with general science topics.

The majority of students attending the science camp attend the five elementary schools that STARS members work at during the academic year. Most of them are also minorities. Teachers from these schools selected the students who would be most suitable to attend the camp, but that did not prevent anyone from joining.

“We’ve limited it to 120 kids, but if a student came to us and said, ‘I’m interested in the summer camp,’ and we have 120 kids, surprise — we have 121 kids,” Edwards said. “We’ve really opened it up to the community.”

The camp is going to double its scope beginning next year, including five new schools in its academic program.

“(We want children to think that) this is something I can do as well,” Edwards said. “This is not just for Bill Nye the Science Guy. Science can be a part of everyday living and if you pursue it, it’s something that you can accomplish.”