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A Community Collaboration: Volunteers from W&L, VMI and RCHS Help Make Woods Creek Montessori’s STEM Summer Camp a Success

After recognizing a lack of summer programs in the area for elementary students interested in math and science, Woods Creek Montessori Director Caroline Russell took action. In mid-June, the inaugural Woods Creek Montessori STEM summer enrichment camp kicked off, with nearly 20 rising fourth, fifth and sixth graders participating in hands-on sessions in science, engineering, technology and math.

The interactive sessions, held in science labs and classrooms on the campuses of both Washington and Lee University and VMI, were taught by volunteer faculty and staff from both colleges, as well as teachers and students from Rockbridge County High School.

The first week of camp focused on science, with students participating in sessions such as Engineering: From Bridges to Rockets, Visualizing Science, Understanding Viscosity and Volcanic Eruptions, Chemistry is Cool!, Spider Behavior, the Woods Creek Project, Rube Goldberg Machines, Science of Cyanotypes, Hands-On Physics, and Beekeeping and Pollinator Protection.

The first week’s sessions were taught by Jim Squire, professor of electrical and computer engineering at VMI; Dave Pfaff, W&L’s integrative and quantitative science center academic technologist; Jeff Rahl, associate professor of geology at W&L; Matt Tuchler, associate professor of chemistry at W&L; Nadia Ayoub, associate professor of biology at W&L; Charles Winder, biology laboratory instructor at W&L; Jay Sullivan, professor of mechanical engineering at VMI; Christa Bowden, associate professor of art at W&L; Daniela Topasna and Greg Topasna, both professors of physics at VMI; and Harrison Branner, recent graduate of RCHS.

Week two of the STEM camp focused on math, engineering and technology, with the students enjoying sessions on Fun with Fractals, Economics Decisions and Games, Electricity and Circuits, Real World Computer Programming, Why Are Some Things Expensive? It’s All About Supply and Demand!, How to Engineer a Bridge, LEGOs and Linear Optimization, Number Theory, and Math in Decision-Making Models: How We Use Math in Making Everyday Decisions.

The second week’s sessions were taught by Meagan Herald, associate professor of applied mathematics at VMI; Katie Shester and Chris Handy, both assistant professors of economics at W&L; Maggie Lee, rising sophomore at RCHS; Brandon Bucy, senior academic technologist at W&L; Art Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics at W&L; Chuck Newhouse, professor of civil and environmental engineering at VMI; Gavin Fox, assistant professor of business administration at W&L; Chris McGrath, advanced math and science Teacher at RCHS; and Tenni Sen, professor of economics and business at VMI.

In addition to the volunteers from W&L, VMI and RCHS, Waddell Elementary School first grade teacher Janice Black and RCHS advanced chemistry teacher Sherry Baucom served as lead instructors for the summer camp, accompanying the students to the various sessions.

By all accounts, the first year STEM camp was a success, and local parents and students should be on the lookout for the program to run again next summer.

“We received tremendously positive feedback from parents and campers who were grateful for the opportunity to participate in this hands-on enrichment program,” said Russell.  “Woods Creek Montessori looks forward to building on the success of this project and to supporting youth STEM education in the Rockbridge area in the coming years.”

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