Emilia Jara did not think a camp on energy could hold a kid's attention. She was prepared for days of long lectures and dull lessons. She was happy to be wrong.
"I thought it would be boring," said Emilia, a student at Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin. "But it's a lot of fun."
Emilia and about 30 other students from Beth Shields and Pierce Middle School in Tampa spent four days at Hillsborough Community College's SouthShore campus learning about energy. Camp themes included solar and hydrogen power, fossil fuels and windmill generators. The camp engaged the students through colorful slide shows, ask anything discussions, fun field trips and plenty of creative, hands-on experiments.
The campers are members of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Excel at their middle schools. AVID Excel is designed for high-achieving English-language learners. These students were hand-picked for the camp because they love to learn. AVID Excel strives to improve leadership, public speaking and organizational skills so students can succeed in middle school, high school and college.
It was clear the kids looked forward to the experiments. After a lesson on solar power, summer camp instructor Kyla DonLevy had a job for the students. She wanted them to create solar cookers so they could make s'mores and pizza rolls. The kids broke into groups and happily went to work.
They used pizza boxes, an umbrella, a packing box and other materials. They cut. They folded. They taped. They all hoped their cookers would work the following day so they could enjoy the tasty treats.
Benjamin Albarado, an eighth-grader at Beth Shields, enjoyed the projects but was happy he had partners to bounce ideas back and forth.
"It's cool because you have a team to help you work it out," Albarado said, as he jammed pieces of aluminum foil into a pizza box. "You'd probably mess it up if you did it by yourself."
Nina Stokes, camp manager, said the camp gave students perspective and the projects offer them real-world experience.
"The focus is on hands-on," she said. "We're trying to make those concepts come to life."
Brittney Wilhelm, a teacher at Pierce, said the students gained a lot of information and knowledge thanks to the energy camp. They also got to spend time at a college.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for them at HCC," she said.
The students attended the camp for free. The camp was sponsored by FLATE (Florida Advanced Technological Education Center), HCC-SouthShore and the Florida Energy Systems Consortium.
Guadalupe Frayre said her time at the energy camp made her think about ways she could conserve energy and envision an engineering career.
"It's been a fun experience," said Frayre, a student at Pierce. "I never imagined me doing stuff like this."
DonLevy, who teaches biology at Durant High School in Plant City, was happy to work with the teens. She said these students and others like them will someday lead society. Hopefully, she said, they'll remember what she talked about.
"It's going to be up to their generation to make choices," she said.
Monica Bennett can be reached at [email protected]