By Ron Leir
The climbing mercury notwithstanding, winter is still with us but some Harrison school kids are warming to the idea that summer is only a few months away and, with summer, comes … more school!
Well, sort of.
Michael Landy, administrator in charge of Washington Middle School, explains that 12 of his students have been selected to receive scholarships to attend a SummerTech Computer Camp in Westchester County, N.Y.
“The camp is run by our music teacher at Washington Middle School, Steven Fink, and it was his idea to generously provide the scholarships,” Landy said.
Each scholarship has a value of $1,600, he said.
That will pay for the kids’ lodging, meals and personnel costs associated with the camp’s instructional component. They’ll spend one week at the site, Landy said.
The camp, Landy said, “features high tech learning, with five curriculums to choose from, including coding, animation, Python, C++, Java and web curriculum.”
Those who will be attending are Aaron El Hassani, Natalie Giumarra, Kane Montan, Susan Perea, Marvin Acuna Jerez, Rusell Kennedy, Justin Cai, Alejandro Chavez, Luis Sobrino, Jamie Diaz, Polyanna Bautista and Gabriel Sousa. All are sixth- , seventh- or eighth-graders.
Landy said students were asked to fill out an application and write an essay describing how they planned to use technology in the future. Applicants needed at least a 2.75 grade point average to qualify, he said.
Eileen Winkleblech, the school’s technology teacher, reviewed the applications and picked the winners based on the contents, grades and students’ interest in technology as demonstrated in class, Landy said.
All of the students chosen have access to home computers and to school computer labs after school if needed, according to Landy.
Fink, who toured with a rock band during the ‘80s and ‘90s, said several of his musician friends started a “techno camp” and, after the band broke up in 1997, he began getting actively involved with his camp buddies, handling the business end, marketing, sponsorship and customer service.
The camp concept grew, spreading to locations throughout the U.S., Canada and even England, Fink said. “We were five dudes living the dream.”
So successful was the model that, eventually, it was bought out and “we started a new version,” initially based at Iona College, but which later moved to State University of New York at Purchase.
“We’re now in our eighth year at SUNY,” Fink said. “The camp operates six weeks during the summer. We accept kids ages eight to 17 but, most typically, we get ages 10 to 15.”
During any one week, there are, as a rule, between 75 and 100 kids in the camp, he said.
“We use a team teaching method with a ratio of about four campers to every staffer,” Fink said. And staffers tend to be former campers themselves, he added. Counselors who are college undergraduates can bring back computer skills learned at school and share those skills with the campers, thereby giving them an edge when they return to their middle school or high school.
“We teach at a high level,” Fink says. “The experience changes people’s paths.”
Campers stay in college dorms under adult supervision.
Sunday, the first day in camp, kids go through orientation and choose a tech course best suited to their individual needs. They’ll spend four to five hours a day learning – and applying – the program they’re studying and interacting with other student-campers.
Then, there’s about two and a half hours allotted for outdoor play time involving activities like dodge ball or Frisbee and in the evening there are social activities and a chance to get to know fellow campers on a personal basis. For some campers, it can be the first time away from home so it affords an opportunity to develop real friendships, Fink said.
“We round out the week with a closing ceremony,” he said. “We give them the tools they need – free software packages, except for animation for which we charge – to follow through back home.”