The Makings of a Jewish Science Camp



by Eric Lightman

The new 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is gearing up to tackle one of our nation’s biggest challenges: providing quality educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for children. Last year, President Obama said that our efforts to improve STEM education are “going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else.” But not all education need take place in a classroom—and the informal educational model that summer camps have perfected over the past century seem a perfect model for delivering engaging science and technology experiences to children.

Supported by a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp through the Jim Joseph Foundation and the AVI CHAI Foundation, the Union for Reform Judaism’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy is one of four new Jewish “specialty” camps that will open in the summer of 2014. Specialty camps are an avenue through which to engage more children in immersive Jewish summer experiences. With an increasing number of summer options, having to choose between two seemingly divergent types of programs (Jewish camp and specialty camp) presents a dilemma for Jewish parents. Our goal is to offer the best of both worlds: expert specialty camp instruction in a warm, fun, Jewish environment.

6 Points Science & Technology Academy will feature hands-on, project-based learning for children ages 10-14. The camp will be located in the Boston area, taking advantage of local resources from professors at MIT, entrepreneurs working in the Route 128 high-tech corridor, and the nearby Museum of Science. Far from being a typical a summer camp experience, 6 Points Science & Technology Academy seeks to engage youth in active learning experiences, encouraging them to explore and develop their interests and valuing their curiosity for the world around them.

Planning for the new camp is an 18-month process. First, we must work out the details about the “look and feel” of our community and program. How many hours per day will campers spend in a science lab? How often will they go to the pool? What elective activities will we offer? How we will incorporate the Jewish element into our daily life at camp? Then, marketing and recruitment will take center stage. With no existing camper base to recruit from, our staff will canvas North America to raise awareness about our program and explain its value to campers and parents. A facility must be secured, staff must be hired, and program curricula must be crafted with the help of professional educators and experts in their field.

To aid in the process of launching the new camps, the FJC provides not only funding to cover start-up costs, but also a series of intensive camp director trainings and professional mentorship. During the course of three years, the directors will go through a series of 10 week-long workshops covering every aspect of camp management, from marketing to programming to board governance. The goal is ultimately to build self-sustaining institutions within five years and increasing the total number of children attending Jewish summer programs.

In addition to the URJ’s 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, other camps being launched with the FJC’s support are: Camp, Inc., focusing on business and entrepreneurship; Camp Zeke, focusing on health and wellness; and JCC Maccabi Sports Camp. These camps join five others that launched in the summer of 2010 as part of the FJC’s original specialty camp initiative, which included the URJ’s 6 Points Sports Academy, based in Greensboro, N.C.

Science is a natural fit with Jewish summer camp. We want our children to be critical thinkers, explore new experiences, learn to live both independently and as part of a cohesive community, and make positive contributions to the world around them. These elements pervade both the Jewish community and scientific community that we will create at 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, and will define the next generation of committed, passionate Jewish scientists.

Eric Lightman is the director of 6 Points Science & Technology Academy, a URJ summer camp opening in the summer of 2014. For more information about the camp, please e-mail elightman@urj.org.

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