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Slowing the Summer Slide in STEM

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When you hear the term summer slide, you probably think of kids falling behind in reading during the long summer break.

But increasingly educators are worried about kids losing ground in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields.

"Parents are really starting to look for opportunities for their children over the summer that allow them to continue to practice those skills," said Heather Norton, the Orlando Science Center's vice president for education.

The Orlando Science Center is one among many organizations across the country that have been trying to get kids interested in STEM fields for several years through specially designed, tuition-based summer camps.

Norton, says that when she first started in her job a little over eight years ago, these day camps were primarily about making sure the kids were safe and having fun.

"We were still talking about the sciences and doing experiments with them, but it was just trying to be a high-quality camp program," said Norton.

Strategic Planning

She says now the center is more strategic when it comes to planning their programming.

"If we want to have a pipeline of children from pre-K on that really inspires them to pursue science learning for life, then we need to look at what that means at each grade level," said Norton.

For the science center, that means making sure their camps align with what students are doing in school as well as with popular areas of interest for the kids. So they're doing more activities related to computer science and robotics. And, they're taking the kids on field trips to places like the aerospace company Lockheed Martin so they can learn about 3D simulators. The kids also go to Disney World, so they can see how rides are designed.

Each weekly camp is designed for a particular grade level and focuses on one topic. For example, preschoolers may study bugs one week, while kids in 1st and 2nd grade learn about space, and students in 5th and 6th grade learn about anatomy.

The camps are growing in popularity. When Norton started, she says, it was common to have camps with 200 kids. Now, they're typically seeing 350 per week.

These camps serve kids from age 3 up to those in the 9th grade, and the prices range from $190 to $420 per week. The center offers scholarships to offset the costs for needy families.

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