Happy campers: Summer youth program features STEAM-based fun
For the past four weeks, the Eureka Springs Community Center has immersed local kids in art projects, science experiments, a basketball skills camp and many other activities. But if you ask the kids enrolled in the community center’s Summer Youth Program, the best part is the friendships.
Blayden Magee, 7, and Kenneth Hamblin, who said he will be 9 next year, became instant friends through the program. They became so close, in fact, that Blayden knew just how to translate a reporter’s questions for Kenneth to understand. When asked what he enjoyed most at camp, Kenneth wasn’t sure what to say.
“No, what’s the funnest thing you did at camp?” Blayden asked.
“Everything,” Kenneth said. “I like everything here. I’m going to be sad to leave. I made new friends.”
For Blayden, the basketball skills camp was especially memorable. Blayden said he liked throwing balls in the hoop and was just as sad as Kenneth to see the program come to an end. That’s a sentiment shared by fellow camper, 7-year-old Sayuri Zollmann.
“I’m kind of sad but I’m glad I’ve gotten to be with some of my friends I met at my school,” Sayuri said.
Her favorite part of the program, Sayuri said, was the art projects.
“We made slime,” Sayuri said. “We made pinch pots out of clay and we also made clay volcanoes.”
“We made spiders yesterday,” added 5-year-old Nora Shaw.
For 6-year-old Grayson Stephenson, the most memorable activity was learning how to use an electric ball pump. Program coordinator Cat Luna said that activity was one of many that implemented Science Technology Engineering Art and Math (STEAM) concepts.
“They always did some kind of STEAM education every day,” Luna said. “We had several art classes, mostly focusing on clay projects, and the library brought in some craft projects for them to work on.”
Other science projects include making “elephant toothpaste,” an experiment that creates foam, and making volcanic explosions in clay volcanoes. Luna said the program offered several physical activities, such as ballet and the basketball skills camp led by community center board member Victor Smith.
“There was always a physical component, and we were big on reading,” Luna said. “We did a lot of different things.”
This is the third year the community center has offered the program, made possible through a partnership with the Eureka Springs School District. This year, the program enrolled 30 kids.
Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the district was excited to work with the community center on the program. The district provided the funding and the kids, Pruitt said, and the community center provided the teachers and activities.
“We’ve had a lot of learning loss this year because of COVID, so this worked out really well for us to get a little more tutoring and additional instruction,” Pruitt said.
Community center board secretary Kathy Remenar, who taught high school for 38 years, said it was particularly important to have the program this year.
“You had students who hadn’t been in school or together for such a long time,” Remenar said. “They needed that stimulation.”
Remenar said the program featured a unique blend of instruction and play. Project-based activities are important to help kids develop lots of skills, she said.
“All of a sudden, a concept becomes real when you put your hands on it,” Remenar. “It allows them to use their imaginations the way they see fit, and because it’s a summer program, they don’t think of it as school but they’re learning the whole time.”
“When you have that hands-on approach, the kid gets it,” Pruitt said. “They realize it and they retain it. Any time we can do hands-on learning, it makes kids want to know more and learn more.”
Luna, who left her position as the community center’s activities director at the beginning of June, said she will never forget working with all the local kids. That’s why she stuck around to lead the Summer Youth Program, Luna said. Through the program, Luna said, she discovered a passion for one-on-one teaching.
“Kids are such a bright light in the world and they have so much to learn and receive, and they do it with such open hearts and clear minds,” Luna said. “It’s exciting to be part of their growth.”
Luna thanked the school district, the library and all the other volunteers who helped make the program possible.
“It was just a big fun time for everyone. It wasn’t competitive,” Luna said. “It was mostly being in the sunshine and enjoying each other’s company.”
The last day of the program, Luna said, one of the kids said they wished it could continue. They celebrated the last day by making elephant toothpaste, eating ice cream and having a shaving cream relay race. It was messy and fun, Luna said, exactly how she hoped to end her time at the community center.
“It was such a positive way to celebrate,” Luna said. “It’s always sad to say goodbye to things, but it’s also a bittersweet time because you’re welcoming new things.”
Luna continued, “The best thing about working with kids is they embrace new challenges without fear pretty much every day. This was a great place for me to stop and start a new chapter.”