For many families, summer vacation means it is time to pack up and head to summer camp. Youth camps give kids the opportunity to engage in the interests and activities that power them. Though students have access to an abundance of camps, Justin Coffey, Ulysses High School Vice Principal, noticed that the opportunities for students whose strengths are in academics were lacking.
“There aren’t many academic-based camps available to students in our area,” said Coffey. “We wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for those students who want to continue learning through the summer, to do so.”
Through grants and additional COVID funding, Coffey was able to secure the funds to purchase 12 VEX IQ kits — a programmable, snap-together robotic system. These kits allow students to explore the world of S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) while building and coding robots.
Once funds for the kits were secured, Coffey asked teachers to nominate students from fourth to seventh grades to participate in the camp. This year’s camp had 19 student participants and five adult camp leaders. Students worked together in teams to build their robots and put them through a series of challenges, from moving a soccer ball with their robots and popping balloons taped to other robots to flinging small yellow balls into a basket for points.
“We wanted them to work in teams, but encouraged them to select teammates that they may not have known as well as other students,” said Coffey. “Working in teams gives students the chance to problem-solve and use critical thinking skills.”
Teams had several styles of robots they could build with the kits. The kits also allow students to make any modifications they choose as they complete challenges.
“It’s a lot harder than you think,” said Thaxton Freeman, holding a tiny blue piece that connects various other parts to the robot. “These pegs are difficult to get in sometimes.”
Despite the challenges of tiny pegs and tape that isn’t sticky enough, overall the participants agree that they enjoyed the camp, even students who had no prior interest or knowledge of robotics.
“Taking the robots apart and putting them back together can be challenging,” said Koltyn Bahl. “But it is fun.”
The VEX IQ kits are reusable, making it possible for the camp to happen year after year. Students and volunteers alike look forward to what the camp may offer next year.
“Our hope would be to expand and offer this camp to more participants in the future,” said Coffey. “We want to be able to offer more students more opportunities that allow them to continue to learn and grow over the summer.”