HANCOCK COUNTY — Cooper spent the week building a race track for marbles that now stands taller than he is.

Parker built a solar-powered robotic cricket and a treehouse for the engineered insect to live in. A fort he constructed from cardboard boxes sits in his New Palestine bedroom.

Learning isn’t stopping this summer for the Hurst boys and dozens of other students despite a two-month break. Across the county, students enrolled in educational camps are getting the chance to be creative while learning about art, science, math, technology and engineering.

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The goal is to keep students engaged while they’re out of school to prevent the so-called “summer slide,” the tendency for students to fall behind, especially in math and reading, when they’re away from school for summer break.

Summer break lasts about eight weeks for most students, and during that time, they can lose some of the knowledge and progress they gained during the previous school year, educators say.

At Hancock County schools, educators are offering a number of education-geared camps throughout the summer for students of all ages.

The camps span a variety of subjects to teach students new lessons or reinforce what they learned in their classes throughout the year. Science, math, engineering and technology camps aim to inspire students to pursue those courses throughout their education careers and beyond.

Most school districts offer a variety of sports camps throughout summer for athletes, and educators want to ensure they’re also offering educational opportunities, said Rhonda Peterson, director of curriculum and instruction at Southern Hancock School Corp.

Southern Hancock Schools offered two camps this summer, and educators hope to increase their offerings next year.

“We want to keep our students engaged. We want to keep them thinking and learning,” Peterson said.

This year’s educational summer camps are project-based, challenging students to use the lessons they learn to build and create their own masterpieces.

An art camp hosted by Southern Hancock Schools earlier this summer allowed students to guide their learning. They chose the arts and crafts they created, which educators hoped encouraged creativity.

Forty elementary-aged students participated in the Block, Paper, Scissors camp that gave students an opportunity to build marble runs, craft swords and shields from cardboard and work on their own final art project.

Cooper, 8, and Parker, 6, both participated in the camp, and spent the week letting their creative juices flow.

Their mom, Jessie Hurst, was thrilled the camps didn’t conflict with the family vacation they have planned for later in the summer and gave her sons the opportunity to learn outside of the normal school setting.

Every summer, she looks for ways to keep her four boys, age 3 through 11, active while they’re out of school.

Cooper also participated in Camp Invention, a week-long camp centered on science, technology, engineering and math education through hands-on activities.

More than 90 youngsters participated in Southern Hancock’s Camp Invention, which is also being offered by Greenfield-Central Schools corp. later this summer.

At Camp Invention, students spend the week working together to invent and problem-solve. They build prototypes, following examples from inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

This year’s agenda for the nation-wide program includes building a robotic cricket and a miniature park featuring zip lines. They’ll also break down electronics, such as VCRs and DVD players, and use the gears and pieces to create something new.

Nearly two weeks after New Palestine’s Camp Invention wrapped up, Cooper was still talking about the fun he had, Hurst said.

“He had a great time, and they kept them busy all day,” she said. “They got to do a lot of exciting things they don’t normally get to do during the school day.”

Students who missed out on the camps at Southern Hancock have another chance to enroll. Educators at Greenfield-Central Schools are also offering two STEM-related camps this summer.

Camp Invention, which runs July 18 through July 22, targets students entering first through sixth grade. Invention Project runs the same week for seventh and eighth-grade students.

The camps are open to students from all four county school districts, said camp director Amanda Bradford. Right now, roughly 80 students are signed up to participate, and parents may enroll their students until the first day of camp.

Educators picked the end of summer for their camp to help students get back in the groove of the school day, she said.

Camp Invention runs all day and should help students get re-adjusted to their school day schedules before the new year launches on Aug. 1.

Organizers hope the camp gets students excited about science, technology, math and engineering learning, while offering a way to keep their brains active during summer, she said.

“They’ll do a lot of exploring and hands-on activities,” Bradford said. “We want to get them excited about STEM learning and hopefully build on that excitement through the year.”

Summer programming

Greenfield-Central Schools is offering two STEM-related summer camps next month for students across the county. The camps, which focus on science, technology, engineering and math, run July 18 through July 22. 

Camp Invention is offered to students entering first through sixth grade. 

Invention Project is reserved for seventh- and eighth-grade students. 

For more information or to sign up, visit campinvention.org or inventionproject.org. Email director Amanda Bradford with questions at abradford@gcsc.k12.in.us.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.