SUMMIT Soon-to-be middle schoolers in Boyd County spent the week diving head first into STEM learning.

Boyd County Middle School was the site for the district’s STEM Innovations camp for fifth-graders in the district that will transition to middle school in the fall. The focus of the camp was to provide interactive and hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and math.

The students at the camp are getting a head start on learning and an opportunity to close any learning gaps from the pandemic year. Beyond the knowledge base, Boyd County teachers and administrators want to offer opportunities for the students to be together and build relationships after not being together for so long.

“We really want to make sure our incoming students, given the year that they’ve had, are comfortable and familiar with this building to start out the school year,” said Shawn Thornbury, Boyd County Middle School principal.

Thornbury said his role for the week was to be present. He is interacting and getting to know the sixth graders that will be walking in those doors in the fall and allowing them to get to know him. He’s also lending a hand to the teachers.

“This can’t happen without them,” said Thornbury, who continually praised the teachers for their hard work. He credited Sheri Bonzo and Kim Fitch for their good work in planning the event.

Bonzo is a self-proclaimed science geek. “I have a passion for it,” she said. “I’ve been excited for this week and to see the kids faces.”

In just one single day of the camp the students used a 3D printer, learned and created snap circuits, launched bottle rockets, learned about magnets, baked s’mores in solar ovens, participated in egg cart engineering, programmed Lego robots and raced them through an obstacle course.

They were busy with new opportunities to learn each day and pique their interests. The chemistry of fire, liquid nitrogen, DNA, heart health, snakes, natural disasters and penguins are just a few topics into which the students dove head first.

Bonzo was so impressed by the students and their grasp of the concepts and willingness to learn. She explained that every minute of the camp is in the Kentucky academic standards for sixth grade.

“I was so impressed with them, they were learning about acids and bases and PH scale and then they went to the high school teacher and she took them to the next level,” Bonzo explained.

The teachers at the camp are from all across the schools and grade levels in the district.

“We wanted teachers at the elementary level so that when the kids came in they saw a friendly face, teachers they can remember from their elementary schools,” said Bonzo. Then add in the middle school teachers they will have starting in the fall as well as high school teachers, so they know who they are looking toward having in a few short years when they head off to BCHS.

Beyond the teachers were eighth through 12th grade students who served as mentors for the groups. Each group had one or two older students helping guide them through the day. They ate breakfast and lunch with the students and served as role models for learning.

Bonzo explained the great value that comes from the mentorship of older students.

“Students will listen to other students and learn from other students sometimes more so than their teacher,” Bonzo said. “If the opportunity for the kid is available, then they will grab onto it and they will learn even more.”

Reagan Vipperman just finished her freshman year of high school and was one of the 14 mentors during the Innovations camp.

“As a mentor we get to teach students and help them go through the same programs we went through when we were going into sixth grade,” Vipperman said.

Vipperman said her favorite part of being a mentor is “being able to help kids learn and have experiences that I used to have while being able to also enjoy myself because I like helping others.”

The soon-to-be sixth graders will then get to turn around and help their classmates in the fall.

“These sixth graders are going to get an opportunity to be leaders for their peers, because they will have been in and have had this experience and know where the building is and know where the lockers are at, know where the cafeteria is,” said Thornbury.

There weren’t just current students and staff lending a hand. The camp had a plethora of partners that helped the teachers make the camp happen.

The Summit-Ironville Fire Department, Health and Safety Sciences, Kentucky Science Center, the Newport Aquarium, the Boyd County 4-H Extension Office, the Kentucky Gateway Museum, St. Mary’s Medical Center, King’s Daughters Medical Center, Marathon Petroleum and Morehead State University’s Craft Academy all made presentations and planned activities with the students this week.

Laura Wiley works in the lab at Marathon Petroleum and is a Boyd County graduate. She and her coworker Taylor Justice taught the kids about the law of thermodynamics using solar ovens. Using a pizza box, aluminum foil and plastic, the students baked s’mores by turning light energy into heat energy, Wiley explained.

Wiley found a love for science through these types of activities when she was at Cannonsburg Elementary school. Her teacher “made science fun by making it interactive, and I want to continue to do that for the kids today.”

Wiley said it’s something she and Justice practice with their own kids and coming back to the middle school has been fun. She also had the opportunity to spend the day in the classroom with Boyd’s gifted and talented teacher, her mother-in-law, Lisa Wiley.

Students were in groups named after scientists throughout the decades such as Newton, Einstein, Curie, Daly and Galilei. Each group rotated through sessions where new adventures awaited.

On day two, students were learning about electricity with teacher Tami Maddox by using circuits.

Maddox is a fourth-grade teacher at Ponderosa Elementary and helped students build kits to make different projects. The students began with a simple circuit then moved on to more complicated work.

“We had a hovercraft,” Maddox explained. “We had lights and sounds. It was crazy earlier. It’s been amazing. This has been a blast. The kids said it’s their favorite thing. We’ve just had a really great time today.”

While in 3D printing class, the students learned about how the printer works and what can be done with it, said Emmalynn Edmonds, fourth-grade teacher at Summit Elementary. The students learned that the printer is good for conservation as it only uses what it needs and doesn’t create waste. It can also create parts for cars, medical devices and more that are hard to come by or not made anymore, Edmonds explained.

“It’s good for them to see that they can create really anything,” Edmonds said. “As long as they can create a blueprint and map it out, they can make it.”

Getting those juices flowing as they reach higher levels of education is the goal and excites the teachers.

Andrea Dixon is a sixth grade science teacher at BCMS and was excited to see their imaginations going. It also gives her insight into the upcoming class.

She gets to know some of the students, what piques their interest and how they learn.

“You can see test scores and everything, but that doesn’t tell you what they are going to understand in your class,” Dixon explained. She gets the opportunity to know if these students might struggle with paying attention, want to do more experiments and what type of activities might work best.

“I can sort of get in my brain what they might like to do before we even have to start teaching classes,” said Dixon.

The value of the camp for her is high. It was her first time teaching at a camp like STEM Innovations, but it certainly won’t be the last.

“I’ll probably do it every other year that we have it,” she said. “It has been very useful for me as a teacher.”

High school computer science teacher Linda Rich also saw value in seeing the students before they are in her class.

Rich used Lego robots to teach about coding and programming, something important in the 21st Century, she said.

“It uses logical thinking skills,” Rich said. “As a high school teacher, they come to me with some of those logical thinking skills, they already know it, they’re already excited about it. It gives them that computational thinking.”

The teachers did all the lesson planning and the ideas all came from them, Bonzo said.

Funding for the camp came from relief money via the federal government, said Thornbury. The principal explained that a significant goal of the money was to address learning gaps and social and emotional needs of students. Boyd is using its camps to help address those issues. The camp’s goal is to provide extended learning and opportunities for students to be with peers and help them transition from fifth to sixth grade.

“These opportunities we are putting on this summer, we felt was a real opportunity to invest the money into the spirit of what the COVID relief was,” Thornbury said.

Bonzo said the camp went beyond the science; it was about relationship building first and foremost.

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