Summer camp at Carnegie Museums is a smorgasbord of art and science learning, and this past summer, about 3,000 curious kids dug in.
Six girls in pastels and ponytails wander around the grounds of Carnegie Science Center. The 10-year-olds glance at two handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units and then at a nearby path.
“Mine is pointing right down there,” Alexia Junker says, studying the GPS in her hand. The girls peer down at rocks lining the banks of the Ohio River on the North Shore and debate the location of the hidden prize. Then suddenly they agree—it’s in the river.
The prize isn’t in the river, says Jaime Kostelnick, the group’s guide and a geologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Earlier in the day, Kostelnick gave the girls lessons on how to use the tracking technology and explained how she uses it to create geological surveys.
These girls are participants in a six-day camp, run by the Girls, Math & Science Partnership (GMSP), a program of Carnegie Science Center, that’s part Charlie’s Angels, part science and math class. For a week, they play covert agents with secret identities tackling lessons about physiology and anatomy. They even test their own DNA. They also visit local businesses and interview everyone from scientists to executives. All this to eventually unravel a proposed mystery: Why did several Pittsburghers, including Steeler Troy Polamalu, become sick within 48 hours of eating a certain fruit? These science sleuths must use their new
science skills to discover why.
“Science centers have been working for a decade to change the perspective of science and the biggest barrier girls face is can I do it?” says Jennifer Stancil, executive director of GMSP, which develops creative programs aimed at improving the odds of girls pursuing math or science as a career. “But Click! is not just confidence building, it’s about skill building.”
And Click! summer camp isn’t just a week-long alternative to the community swimming pool; it’s a fun learning experience that challenges kids in ways that are exciting to them, and it’s just one of more than three dozen or so summer-camp experiences offered through the four Carnegie Museums.
Knee-Deep in Art and Science
In fact, the six fifth-graders searching the banks of the North Shore are among 3,000 area children who participated this past summer in experiential learning camps at Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History and the Science Center. And when someone asks them what they did on their summer vacation—the tales from camp are pretty impressive.
Kids spent mornings and afternoons, weeks at a time, literally knee-deep in art and science: sculpting and painting, hunting for dinosaur fossils and building robots, designing buildings, and studying space travel and the underground life of bugs.
“The museums offer such a wide variety of learning opportunities through various camps that participation truly can be a life-changing experience for young people,” says Suzy Broadhurst, chair of Carnegie Museums’ Board of Trustees and a staunch supporter of the camp program. “It’s a great way to get children excited about learning and we hope it turns them on to wanting to learn even more. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the museums and the kids we serve.”
Considering her passion for the hands-on learning provided at Camp Carnegie, it was only fitting that Broadhurst’s fellow board members chose to honor her service as interim president, as well as her ongoing work on behalf of the Carnegie Museums as its chair and a life trustee, with a special camp scholarship fund in her name.
Named the Suzanne W. Broadhurst Children’s Camp Fund, the new scholarship program covered the cost of summer camp tuition for 10 Pittsburgh Public School students this past summer.
Broadhurst chose to award the scholarships to city middle school students, and she left the decision about camp location and the criteria by which students were selected up to the district. Principals of the eight Accelerated Learning Academies, along with principals at Manchester and Miller schools, opted to send all 10 students to science camps at Carnegie Science Center. They selected students based on their high interest and performance in science, as well as behavior.
“This fund is providing meaningful learning opportunities that otherwise might not be possible,” says Broadhurst. “My hope is that, through this program, kids who could never afford to attend our camps can have a great learning experience in a very enriching and exciting environment.”
Back on the riverbank at the Science Center, the six special agents try to use the GPS unit’s compass function. They walk in a circle following its direction. The overcast sky hinders the satellite from providing clear information—one of the downfalls of technology, the girls learn.
“There it is!” shrieks Mariska Usouski, spotting a find. The prize is nail polish, and the girls quickly begin comparing colors.
The day after the scavenger hunt, the girls use their GPS skills to locate three mystery sources who provide clues about the case of the perplexing peaches. The culprit might be chalked up to corporate foul play, a bad batch of peaches like with the recent spinach scare, a Polamalu rival out to stifle his defensive prowess, or maybe the solution is written into the genes.
The young girls pepper the informants with questions about the canning processes, medical information, and corporate rivalry. Before the day is over, the mystery is solved (but not revealed for the sake of future campers). Next up: an environmental whodunit in September for 12–14 year olds.