Two months ago, CU Boulder faculty and staff members were putting the finishing touches on summer camps that serve K-12 students around Colorado and beyond.
When the campus moved to remote learning on March 16, CU Boulder’s summer camp providers had to make some hard decisions. Could their programs transition to an online platform? Would they be able to serve students and families effectively?
Most campus units decided to postpone their camps to summer 2021.
However, CU Science Discovery, the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement (ODECE), and the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic have designed online offerings that start in June.
“Canceling our in-person programs and recreating the whole thing from scratch in just a few weeks is no small task,” said Stacey Forsyth, director of Science Discovery. “Our summer team has done an amazing job in a very short period of time. Although we’re utilizing an online format to connect with campers, we’re designing camps to include both online time as well as fun, hands-on activities away from the computer.”
Teaching through live-streamed lessons, “camp in a box”
With nearly 40 years of summer camp planning under their belts, the Science Discovery team got to work recreating their interactive STEM experiences online. Coding and computer science camps were easy to transition to the new format, but staff soon realized that other camps could also work at home.
They redesigned 32 different camps for K-8 students, which will be offered June 1 through July 31. Topics include dinosaurs, insects, rockets (with Fiske Planetarium), origami, math, puzzles and ciphers, STEM in the Wizarding World and more. STEM academies for high school students, including robotics, aerospace engineering and biotechnology, will be offered as well.
In the morning, campers will participate in livestreamed lessons and connect virtually with staff and each other, said Jordan Kaseeska, summer STEM programs director. Students will do activities on their own in the afternoon, using materials from a kit provided by Science Discovery. Students can post questions and images of their projects on a virtual bulletin board.
The camps are structured to generate excitement. For example, during the first morning of the Harry Potter-themed wizard camp, students will open their boxes together and discover which group they will be “sorted” into for the week. The puzzle and ciphers camp features a digital escape room, and the kit includes cipher tools and different clues to open on certain days.
The Science Discovery team is now seeing this as an opportunity to expand their offerings in the form of online after-school programs and virtual options in rural areas statewide.
“The ongoing COVID-19 situation has forced us to think creatively about how we can continue to offer those same types of experiences when we’re unable to meet in person,” Forsyth said.
Helping students stay on track for college
ODECE’s summer planning team had to develop a new approach for their summer programs, which serve about 350 low-income, first-generation high school juniors and seniors from around the state and beyond who visit or live on campus while taking college prep classes and building relationships with mentors and other students.
“Maintaining connections with these students going into their senior year of high school or entering CU Boulder in the fall is critical,” said Christopher Pacheco, executive director of pre-college outreach & engagement. “We don’t want the pandemic to disrupt this process, to risk losing a class of students who decide not to attend college because we didn’t provide programming.”
Programs include CU Boulder’s Upward Bound (a federally funded program), rural partnerships with the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit, Fort Morgan and San Luis Valley school districts, a pre-collegiate development program that primarily serves Denver metro students and a Bridge Program for CU Boulder-bound freshmen from around the state.
Upward Bound already provides distance learning year round for students from six native reservations in five states and develops programming with local communities. Building on these best practices, staff for each ODECE program will provide online academic classes, peer-to-peer mentoring groups with current CU Boulder students and instructors, one-on-one check-ins with staff to discuss transitioning to college and more. Students in these programs participate for multiple years; camps are not open to the general public.
ODECE worked closely with CU Boulder’s Office for Information Technology and the Admissions Office to secure computers, internet access and virtual tours.
“I have staff members who are truly dedicated to the students, and they have taken the lead on putting together a curriculum that works remotely, finding out which students need computers and internet access,” Pacheco said, noting they will provide Chromebooks to 65 students this summer.
Since students will not be able to visit campus during the summer, ODECE is hoping to bring them to campus in the fall for a modified program. In addition, Pacheco said they may eventually expand other summer programs to a year-round model or reach out to new communities.
“I have told staff don’t be disappointed if they run into glitches this year,” Pacheco said. “This will be the first building block and we will build from there as we’ve always done.”
Supporting children with speech disorders
The Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic offers speech and language services to children and adults in the Boulder and Denver metro area, and summer programs for all ages starting in June.
Shelley Sheppeck, director of clinic operations, said the camps support students with a variety of needs including social communication disorders, dysgraphia, dyslexia, stuttering, communication delays and articulation issues.
“Online learning can be challenging for everyone, but it is especially challenging for kids who have speech, language and learning difficulties,” she said. “Our goal is to help parents or caregivers learn how to support their children as they navigate online platforms through age appropriate activities and groups.”
One camp, Reptile Rendezvous, is designed for 5 to 8 year olds with pragmatic difficulties or on the autism spectrum, to help them virtually practice taking turns, raising hands, listening to people without interrupting and other social communication skills while learning about reptiles. Caregivers are asked to participate to support students as they learn these skills. The clinic is partnering with My Nature Lab in Louisville to offer this camp, which runs July 14 to 24.
Other camps that focus on speech, language and learning difficulties include:
- Write ON! for 8 to 13 year olds will run June 8 to July 18 and is for students with writing difficulties, dysgraphia and dyslexia.
- Reading Detectives for 8 to 13 year olds will run June 8 to July 18 and is for students with writing difficulties, dysgraphia and dyslexia.
- Speech Street for 6 to 13 year olds will run June 8 to July 16 and is for children with articulation, language and learning and speech delay concerns.
- Stuttering Support Group for adults runs June 10 to July 15.
- Clearly Speaking for accent reduction for adults runs June 8 to July 13.
To register for speech disorder camps or individual assessments, complete the online inquiry form.