Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Second grader Soloyna Bekele dived into the items in the beach bucket in front of her, then combed through the treasures inside.
“Is this seaweed?” she asked, incredulously, her head cocked to one side, an eyebrow raised, her nose crinkled.
“Touch it. Use your senses,” John Nguyen, a Grand Canyon University senior justice studies major and psychology minor, jumped into the conversation, then waded there for a while.
“What does it feel like?” he asked as Bekele and her GCU Learning Lounge Summer Science Camp partner, Ashley Salas, smoothed their hands over a square of what looked like animal fur, then moved their fingers through a couple of seagull feathers before cupping their ears with seashells.
“Can you hear the ocean?” asked Nguyen, who also is one of the LEADS, or Learning Advocates, teaching two dozen second through fifth graders various science concepts at the University’s newest Learning Lounge, which opened in the spring at the Milwaukee Brewers baseball complex in Maryvale.
It is the first one-week camp in a month of camps offered by the Learning Lounge – a second four-day session will descend at the Brewers’ complex the week of June 10, followed by two full-day, four-day sessions on the GCU campus the last two weeks of June.
Teaching a couple of the camps at the baseball complex would be a great way to expose families to the regular programming GCU offers throughout the school year, said Shari Stagner, Director of K12 Outreach. The facility offers academic support via GCU college scholars to local kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the community. It’s where those school-age students can receive free one-on-one and small group learning sessions. If they’re on campus, they can settle into the Lounge’s study area, small computer lab or TV area; at the Brewers’ complex, they can spread out in a couple of rooms designed to encourage learning.
When the Learning Lounge first opened on the GCU campus in 2013, three K-12 students showed up. Now it serves 50 to 100 students a day. The University sees the Brewers Learning Lounge as having the same kind of impact in the community surrounding it.
“When we partnered with the Milwaukee Brewers to open this Learning Lounge, we did it to expand our reach into the West Valley in support of all the young families who reside in this community,” Stagner said.
“There is an elementary school right there,” Nguyen said of nearby Eagle College Prep Elementary School in Maryvale. It is one of the schools GCU’s LEADs visited in the 2018-19 school year. Borman Elementary also is right next door. “… I know it’s sometimes hard for families to get to the main campus,” and so fanning out to a location outside of campus, such as the Brewers Learning Lounge, just increases students’ access to programs, such as the science camp. It means a closer interaction with the community for GCU.
Then there’s the baseball element, too.
While that connection helps GCU serve the community and convey the importance of education, it also connects families to baseball.
Beyond that outreach, when it comes to science camp, “first and foremost, we wanted to provide children with the opportunity to have fun with science and engage in authentic experiences,” Stagner said.
And students seem to be doing just that.
Second graders occupied one room in the Learning Lounge, where they studied shoreline science. Not only were they in the midst of an exercise called Beach Bucket Scavenger Hunt, in which they separated items into what beachcombers might find on the beach and what they might not find, they also learned terminology, such as “evidence,” “pollution,” “harm” and “marine litter.”
Salas said her favorite activity so far was looking at a globe and scoping out the world’s shorelines.
Next door, in the third through fifth grade room, students studying light energy delved into their own experiment. They took toilet paper cardboard rolls, covered on one end with wax paper and on the other end with aluminum foil, and then poked a hole in the aluminum end.
Then one of the LEADs turned out the light in the room and turned on a red light and, just below it, a blue light. When the students looked through their light tubes, somehow – through the magic of science – the blue light appeared above the red light.
LEAD Sara Rojas, a senior majoring in math for secondary education, got to exercise her teaching skills at the camp. It is the second year she has taught at the Learning Lounge summer camps. She helped to create some of the curriculum, which incorporated Kevin Beals’ “The Speed of Light.”
“I did lesson planning for each day,” said Rojas.
“I love just seeing them get excited every day,” she said of working with the students, “… and seeing them remember what they did before – that they actually are absorbing the information.”
LEAD Edgar Ojeda, a junior mechanical engineering major who played a bit of beach ball volleyball with the students during a break, said what he loves about volunteering for the camp is “just having the children around and doing the mini-experiments. I like labs a lot and helping them apply what they learned.”
Fifth grade homeschooled student Selah Edwards attended the camp with her brother, third grader Anaiah Edwards.
While he wants to be a pilot or engineer, Selah dreams of being an Olympic ice skater.
Her favorite part of camp: “The ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ video we got to watch,” though the day’s light tube activity might bump Nye out of contention.
As for Nguyen, what he loves is how the campers get excited about everything. But there’s something else he loves: “I get excited as well,” he said. “I like playing the teacher role.”
One of the neat aspects of the camp is it’s offered to students for free. Stagner said a former colleague of hers “graciously gifted us the curriculum, and St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance helps us feed our campers.”
About 350 students will be delving into authentic science experiences and developing their reading, language and writing skills throughout June as part of the Learning Lounge summer camps, which are full, though Stagner said she encourages families to watch for other opportunities in the school year.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.