Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Dr. Melinda Garcia, 210-631-0400, Melinda.email@example.com
SAN ANTONIO – While other young people were involved in more typical summer vacation pursuits, some students continued their education at the recent STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — summer camp in San Antonio.
More than 50 students from third to 10th grade participated in the free four-day camp held at St. John Berchmans Catholic School and presented through a Children, Youth and Families at Risk, or CYFAR, grant, the Juntos 4-H program and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
The students represented St. John Berchmans, Leal Middle School, Harlandale High School and Little Flower Catholic School, plus area Boys and Girl Clubs of America.
“We were glad to see so many young people show up to take advantage of this free STEM camp,” said Dr. Melinda Garcia, AgriLife Extension project coordinator for the CYFAR program. “Getting students interested in STEM subjects is a goal of both the CYFAR and Juntos 4-H programs in San Antonio.”
Garcia said CYFAR grant funding provides educational opportunities through the Knights 4-H Club of St. John Berchmans Catholic School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. The Juntos 4-H program is a partnership of the National 4-H Council and New York Life that is implemented at the eighth-grade level at Leal Middle School with student participation continuing into Harlandale High School.
The STEM camp is one of the unique learning opportunities offered while the students are on their summer vacation, she said. Other educational opportunities this summer will include a CYFAR and Juntos 4-H tour of Texas A&M University in Galveston and Moody Gardens, a Juntos 4-H weeklong Summer Leadership Academy at Our Lady of the Lake University, and a CYFAR Prime Time 1 4-H Camp at the Texas 4-H Conference Center in Brownwood.
“The goal of these programs is to help at-risk minority youth maintain an interest in school and introduce them to STEM subjects and the possibilities of going to college and having a successful career and life,” Garcia said. “We enjoy helping engage these students academically and showing them the possibilities of a better future through education and dedication.”
At the STEM camp, students participated in hands-on activities intended to introduce them to practical STEM applications and to help them develop life skills, such as leadership and team-building, to serve them as they pursue of higher education and a career.
“We also had the cooperation of professors and scientists from area universities and colleges who showed the students some practical applications of science,” Garcia said.
She said Drs. Eunhye Kwon and Sukho Lee of the counseling, health and kinesiology department at Texas A&M in San Antonio spoke about the impact of technology on vision and gave a demonstration on impaired vision. Dr. Jo Dee Duncan, director of the Center of Excellence for Science at St. Philip’s College, spoke about synthetic biology and the Zika virus. Drs.Galvan and Ibarra from University of the Incarnate Word spoke about nutrition, urban food deserts and sustainability.
“In addition, Dr.Kimberly Cochran, an AgriLife Extension plant pathologist based in Uvalde, demonstrated how to use a microscope,” Garcia said. “With CYFAR funds we were able to buy about a dozen digital LCD microscopes, and Dr. Cochran showed the kids how to use them so they could see magnified images of mushrooms, snap peas, strawberries and flowers.”
Lynne Christopher, who coordinates the middle and high school education programs for San Antonio Water Systems, told participants about the importance of conserving water and provided another hands-on activity.
“We had the older kids work with the younger ones to build a water tower and learn some of the basics of operating a water company, which helped teach the older kids leadership and show the younger kids the importance of teamwork and communications,” Garcia said.
The San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department also brought its Mobile Fit San Antonio unit to the school to perform health screenings on students and play music while students participated in aerobic exercises.
“Being a former teacher, I’m a believer in children not only receiving information in a classroom setting, but also having access to hands-on learning experiences,” Garcia said. “These activities not only gave the young people the opportunity to learn, but also the opportunity to compete and develop self-confidence.”
Roxanne Acosta was one of the parents attending and assisting with the camp. Her son, Aaron Anderson, 10, is in his second year in the 4-H program at St. John Berchmans.
“We live in the country so Aaron has been around animals and knows about sustainability,” Acosta said.
She said rural living has also helped him develop important traits and learn useful life skills, such as personal responsibility and the value of hard work.
“I have to remember to feed the animals and know what kind of food to give them,” Anderson said. “And I have to walk them, care for them and sometimes wash them. It’s a lot to do.”
Genevieve Kropp, 13, a student and 4-Her at Little Flower Catholic School, said the STEM camp and other activities offered through the CYFAR program help her better understand what she learns in the classroom.
“These hands-on activities really help me apply what I learn in school” she said. “Now I’m not so lost in class and have a better idea of how to use math and science in a practical way.”
Garcia noted the camp also would not have been possible without the many adult volunteers who gave their time and effort.
Irene Flores, a volunteer with the Juntos 4-H program at Leal Middle School and Harlandale High School, brought six students to participate in the STEM camp, including her daughter Jewelianna, soon to be a sophomore at Harlandale High School.
Other adult volunteers at the camp included Rose Marie and Benito Revilla, who were recently recognized during the annual 4-H Roundup in College Station as 2017 Texas 4-H Salute to Excellence award winners.
“We’ve been involved in the CYFAR program for three years,” said Rose Marie Revilla. “We’re in our 60s, and already have a son and daughter in their mid-30s, but now we also have our 10-year-old adopted daughter Natalie in the program. It makes us feel good to volunteer to help her and to help the other kids.”
In addition to helping with educational programs, the Revillas assist with the gardens at both St. John Berchmans and Little Flower, help maintain school grounds and provide transportation for many of the students.
“We want our daughter to succeed in school and in life, so we’re helping with those programs we know will help her and the other kids at the school,” Benito Revilla said. “These programs are valuable, and we’re happy to support them.”
Garcia said participants in programs such as the STEM camp are appreciative of the unique educational opportunities they offer.