Ball State student and child at microscope

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s a sneaky kind of summer camp. Sure, there are plenty of outdoor activities and crafts, from archery to building birdhouses. But here …

  • Nature walks meet Indiana life science standards — yet let campers ponder whether the alligator head in the pond is attached to a real reptile.
  • Kids play games to learn math skills and concepts, using iPads loaned from Ball State’s Teachers College on Technology Tuesdays.
  • An old-fashioned wagon ride becomes an engineering lesson about the wheel-and-axle simple machine.

While they didn’t know it, 55 Delaware County youngsters got a STEM clean sweep at Summer Learning Fun, a free four-week Muncie day camp taught by Ball State elementary education majors. Overseeing everything was camp director Stacey Allred, ’95 MA ’01, Ball State elementary ed instructor, and co-director David Lamb, ’01 MS ’14, a third-grade teacher at Wes-Del Elementary in Gaston.

In its second year, Summer Learning Fun was a big hit for kids who started third or fourth grade this month, their families, and the 12 undergrads teaching there. But most everyone was a bit skittish before it started in June.

Senior Jerika Schultz wrote in her camp diary: “I can’t believe I worried all night last night about the first day.” So did others.

“I was very nervous when I first came to camp,” said Graham Gillespie, now a third-grader at Yorktown Elementary, “’cause I was going to meet new people.”

Mom Ashley Gillespie, ’99, had her own concerns. While Graham loves the outdoors and critters (“I’m going to be a zoologist”), “he’s very much a homebody,” said the Yorktown resident. “And he had some anxiety at the end of the school year that interfered with his academics.”

Well, this was Graham at camp: “He’s written plays and acted them out with his friends. He loves doing even the academics here, the science,” his mom said. “He has loved every aspect of it. I get in trouble if I pull up five minutes early at the end of the day.”

Big kudos from a baseball player

Muncie’s Jennifer Brunner, ’04 MA ’08, is a Wes-Del teacher and mom to baseball fanatic Jack. She said her son, a Wes-Del third-grader, gave camp his highest compliment. “We had seven games one week, yet as tired as he was, he’s excited to come and learn and talk about camp as much as he talks about baseball, which is a lot.”

She also applauded the great training for undergrads. “Camp is showing them all they can do as far as hands-on activities and how to incorporate the community and make their classrooms a better place.”

Each week had a theme (superheroes, knights and castles, pirates, and color wars). Superheroes (from left) Donavyn Pugh, Sam Rowland, Tonin O’Shea and Ian Moskaliev rev up to warp speed in a game with a cage ball. (Photo by Robbie Mehling)

Community visitors included Yorktown High soccer players, who set up skills stations; a Delaware County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit that demonstrated human and canine skills; and Muncie Symphony Orchestra members, who let campers play various instruments.

On the academic side, Ball State students worked in pairs to create lessons about simple machines (engineering) and life science, building them around academic standards Allred and Lamb chose. They then taught lessons they’d all written, using the log cabin, shelters, and other spots on the 41 acres of Camp Adventure, an outdoor environmental education facility that Muncie Community Schools runs.

Thirteen camp days, plus weeks of preparation, left them more confident in everything from deciding to go into education to their teaching abilities.

Because they’re in charge of kids all day, undergrads get nearly quadruple the time with youngsters as in a usual practicum course, Allred said. “The more time you spend with children, the sharper your skills become.”

Jerika reflected that in her camp diary: “I’ve learned so much and grown so much as a teacher. I definitely feel more prepared for student teaching.”

So the Muncie resident didn’t blink when a reading lesson about fact and opinion, with text about Big Foot, produced animated discussion. She wrote: “We had a few campers who knew him personally and one whose grandpa caught him, so we spent a few minutes listening to their personal stories … 😉”

Students must be on their toes

Allred ensures that her students practice versatility; junior Jason Amberger testifies to that.

“She throws curveballs at us, and we still have to fit in the mandatory things. That’s what it’s going to be like when you start teaching at a real school. Something new comes up, so you have to change your plans. You have to learn to be flexible.”

Ball State camp counselors

Ball State students await members of their six tribes with teaching supplies and games. Jitters about camp, shared by tribe leaders and members, were quickly replaced by laughter and lots of learning. (Photo by Don Rogers)

The undergrads also led small groups in reading and writing. All their work helped maintain or increase campers’ reading and science skills to avoid summer learning loss, a term that describes how many students lose academic skills during summer vacation. The other camp goals were to create a safe, fun environment for physical activity and offer breakfast, lunch and snacks.

Ashley Gillespie evaluates camp from her perspectives as Graham’s mom and an elementary teacher in Anderson. Summer can be tough for many kids, she said, noting some don’t have anyone at home and may not get enough food.

“I see that this benefits kids in so many ways. I’m very grateful that funding and grants have been given to provide this camp for kids for free.” That’s thanks this year mainly to grants from the George and Frances Ball Foundation and Discovery Women’s Group.

The owls and the bees

For Donavyn Pugh, now a fourth-grader at Longfellow Elementary in Muncie, the best part of camp was filling his brain with science. While there, he eagerly talked about owl pellet dissection.

“It was cool because I’d never looked through a microscope. Owls eat the meat but they don’t eat the bones or hair. They digest the meat. They put the bone and the hair and ball it up inside their mouth, and then they spit it out. The dissection felt kind of weird, but it was fun. I love it here.”

Physical activities were often an essential part of learning. Jerika led her tribe in a peppy lesson about bees, explaining how their pollination is vital for plants’ survival. Then the lover of dance taught campers how bees give colony mates directions to pollen and nectar through quick, repeated abdominal shakes.

Charlie Cardinal meets campers

Matthew Hardy (left) plays Connect 4 with Charlie Cardinal as Maliya Lacey watches. Charlie and a Muncie Symphony Orchestra duo helped welcome kids to four weeks of reading, writing and fishing. (Photo by Don Rogers)

The Muncie resident wrote in her camp diary, “The students learned a dance called the Waggle Dance, which mimics the motion bees make. They had a blast with it!”

The camp directors love reactions like that. “They’re learning, having fun, and not even realizing they’re doing work that will help them be successful when they go back to school,” Lamb said.

Jason, from Sunman, now knows he’ll be a much better teacher.

“My love of kids has gone through the roof. You see kids change every day, and you see them grow and learn and expand. And that’s what it feels like to be a teacher.”

He praises the opportunities Ball State offers. “You can do, grow, and expand — not only as an individual but in your major — and become a better professional. And you become a better person through it all.”

Camp, he said, gave him “an experience you can’t get from anything else. You know you’re in the right place, and you’re doing what you should be doing.”

To learn how to participate in or support Summer Learning Fun camp, email Stacey Allred or call her at 765-285-5122.