Jul. 24—WATERTOWN — The halls of H.T. Wiley Intermediate School were filled with wonder Thursday afternoon and Friday morning as families of students participating in summer camps had the opportunity to see what they had been working on for the past few weeks.
A Thursday art showcase featured pieces done in various mediums, and on Friday, it was all about STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"Just in the interactions that I've had with the children, the excitement, this is summer and they're so excited about coming to school and sharing their projects," said Superintendent Patricia B. LaBarr, who is retiring in August. "That, to me, makes it all worth it."
For the art camp, students in kindergarten through sixth grade participated in a two-week camp session, working on ink and paint projects, self portraits and transparencies melted to make bowls. Sarah L. Carpenter, intern summer school administrator, said 80 to 100 students participated in the art camp, and it was by far the most popular program this summer.
"It's fun to get students out of the house and doing something where they are able to express themselves through different mediums," she said. "That they're able to engage in their learning and having fun while they're doing this, that's the most important part."
Along with the fundamentals of art, students learned about famous artists.
Claire Tross, who will be turning 10 in a few days, said she enjoyed the opportunity to make bowls and mixed-medium bird nests. She said she would definitely do the art camp again.
"I'd do it 50 times," she said.
Accompanied by her family, including her mother Lindsay and big sister Hannah, Claire pointed out her projects with pride.
"It's just fun for her to get out in summer and do a lot of activities with her friends," her mom said, to which Hannah agreed: "I think it's really cute that the community is coming together to enjoy the kids artwork and just have fun," she said.
The district will offer other camps for the remainder of the summer with topics focusing on theater, creative writing, ecology and math.
Friday's STEM showcase was hosted by Session I students, and Session II students will be holding their showcase on Aug. 5. Students who recently completed grades four to six have been working on makerspace challenges and projects, in which they apply creativity and engineering design skills in a variety of ways. Students in this age group have also been exploring small wonders of the local environment, simple machines, artificial intelligence and robotics. Students who recently completed grades seven to 10 have been building and launching rockets, exploring the microscopic world, learning the science of survival, designing and playing esports games, designing and building cornhole games and designing camp T-shirts.
In addition to Friday's showcase, students and family members were invited to explore a planetarium show through a collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.
Lisa J. Blank, director of the district's STEM programs, about 65 students in grades four to six participated in the STEM camp, with about 12 in grades seven to 10 for this session. The second session has roughly 75 students in grades four to six starting Monday, and around 25 in the older age group.
"I think that it's a spark, it sparks an interest in learning," Mrs. Blank said. "When students are looking at solving problems that they are interested in, they want to learn the math that goes with it, they want to write about and tell people about it. This is just a natural path to that learning for our students. When they are learning and doing things because they're excited about it, they don't even realize they're learning, and they're learning a lot and solving some really tough problems. To me, that's winning when it comes to to teaching and learning."
The students also engaged in a variety of projects during break periods in both camps. At Wiley, students made slime, jewelry and resin art projects and built with Legos.
During Friday's presentations, students launched rockets, displayed their robotics projects, explained their work with microscopy and did much more. Fourth grader Emma Lopez learned how to make a field journal, press flowers, pin bugs and build a bat house, among other things.
She said it was a fun experience and that her favorite part was catching the bugs and researching them — even though she has a fear of bugs. She said that this work helped her challenge that fear.
"I really love the camp because it gives students that opportunity and it also is providing teachers an opportunity to look at teaching and learning differently, really focusing on student interests and engagement as a way to drive that enthusiasm for learning," Mrs. Blank said.
The camps also help connect students to career paths, she said.
"A lot of times they only see careers that are in their world," said Tara J. Elmer, technology integration specialist. "So we want to educate them and open their eyes a bit about what they can be, because there's so much more than what's in their own world."