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Highlander Summer Camps allow kids to explore interests

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 7:45 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
A students' vehicle made from recycled materials during the Adventures in Engineering class held as part of Highlander Summer Camp at Baldwin High School on Thursday, July 16, 2015. The class was held for those in grades 3-5.

Brady Zofcin focused as he tried to bounce a bubble off his T-shirt. It burst as it landed on his arm.

Bubbles do that, his teacher said, unless you coat your skin in bubble solution.

Minutes earlier Brady, 10, was showing off the race car he made from old CDs, washers and recycled materials.

“I just had the picture in my mind and I built it,” said Brady, a fifth-grader at Whitehall Elementary, as he and his classmates laughed and talked about the fun they were having in school this summer, learning how bubbles work and designing their own cars.

“You could get a job in engineering from this,” Brady said.

Attendance at the Baldwin-Whitehall School District's Highlander Summer Camps has doubled in the program's second year, with 95 children attending more than 125 camps that range from “Adventures in Engineering” to “Yoga” and “Introduction to Web Design.”

The camps are offered to students in second to seventh grades and cost $50 to $60. Children do not need to live in the district to attend. All of the four-day-long camps are held at Baldwin High School, from June 29 to July 30.

In the first two weeks, healthy cooking, moviemaking with LEGO Movie Maker and a moviemaker camp were filled to capacity.

“It's great because there's life in the building. It's the middle of summer and the kids are filling the classrooms,” said district director of information and instructional technology Janeen Peretin.

The camps give students the opportunity to explore areas of interest, Peretin said.

“Maybe they weren't going to participate in the science fair, but now they realize they enjoy these kinds of projects so they'll participate this year,” Peretin said.

Baldwin-Whitehall teachers, too, get to explore their interests in the summer, teaching students a variety of topics from history of games and game design to fabric art.

“They've been very enthusiastic about everything,” said elementary library media specialist Ann Sopczynski, who taught the four-day “Adventures in Engineering” camp last week. “They're learning the engineering process. They had to think, design, build, then improve.”

At first, Brady said, he used pipe cleaners as the axles for his miniature race car. That didn't work, so he switched to wooden sticks and found the vehicle traveled faster.

“If at first you don't succeed?” Sopczynski began to ask her students.

“Try, try again,” they all chimed in.

Students learned to persevere, and they did so willingly, Sopczynski said.

“I learned I shouldn't always throw things away,” said Jacob Adams, 9, a fourth-grader at Whitehall Elementary, who pointed to the recycled materials he used to created his car.

Music teachers in the district taught students chorus skills.

Chorus classes begin in the school district in fifth grade, so some younger students taking camp this summer were introduced to vocal warm-ups and harmonizing.

The teachers also taught life lessons, such as how to get over stage fright by bringing in a pet snake and tarantula and having the teacher, one of whom is “deathly afraid” of snakes, hold the pets to show students they, too, can conquer their fears.

“Singing on stage in front of several hundred people. That's probably more frightening than me touching the snake,” said Megan Kraus, an elementary music teacher.

The students were “fascinated and terrified” as they watched teachers hold the creatures.

“It's about making that personal connection,” said Katie Olds, an elementary music teacher.

“This is the all-inclusive music class,” said Baldwin High School graduate Grant Weaver, teacher's assistant for Kris Tranter.

The students learned to harmonize and sing together.

“It shows you that you have to work together as a team or it's all going to fall apart,” said Riley Konesky, 13, an eighth-grader at J.E. Harrison Middle School.

The students said if they weren't in school they likely would be at home playing video games.

“I wish this could last longer,” said Drew Halahan, 9, a fourth-grader at Whitehall Elementary.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

For more information on the Highlander Summer Camps or to register a child for the final session, held July 27 to 30, visit http://bwsdtech.weebly.com/highlander-summer-camps-for-kids.html.

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