Energy Camp Helps Make Real-Life Connections with the World of Renewable Energy

Robots and programming weren’t the only activities that kept the summer buzzing with activity. Thirty students from Beth Shields, Pierce and Turkey Creek middle schools embarked on a four day, fun adventure making real-life connections with the world of renewable energy during FLATE’s energy camp. 2014 is the fourth year, FLATE has been hosting the energy camp at Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore Campus, and is the first year for students from Turkey Creek to attend the camp.

Participating students are currently enrolled in Hillsborough County’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual
Determination) Excel program, many who are first generation, college-bound students. “For our student body, this is one of the best programs to help them in building their language skills” said Susan Alamillo who teaches Spanish for the AVID Excel Program at Turkey Creek Middle School. “They loved this experience, especially the hands-on activities which makes them willing to work on their language skills and boosts their confidence building commonalities with other students” said Alamillo.

For many, the four day camp was an exploratory, yet educational experience as they learned about renewable and alternative energy sources. “It was fun and I learned about different things that I did not know about before” said Irasema Fraoyer, a 7th grader at Pierce Middle School. Curriculum for the camp focused primarily on non-renewable resources, as “that is what is being heavily used and depleted all around us” said Kayla Donlevy who has been teaching the energy camp since the program started in 2011. Donlevy says “the number one goal of the camp is to get them excited about science, take risks when doing experiments and think critically.”

Using that as a basis, campers constructed water wheels and did a tidal wave experiment. They also created
solar cookers, worked in solar power-based experiments to power a movie theatre in a make-believe town. They also got a look at windmill generators and hydrogen fuel cars. “I learned how you can save energy through conservation and how conserving energy can also help you save money” said Jacquelyn an 8th grader at Beth Shields Middle School.

The camp transported students beyond the parameters of everyday classroom learning. “It’s like a ‘eureka’ moment where they are able to solve challenges and problems” said Dawn Simon who has been leading the AVID Excel program at Pierce Middle School since it first started offering the program. Simon says the camp enhances kids’ understanding/curiosity about science. “We have a lot of girls who are interested in science and mathematics which in turn has stirred interest of other girls in the school to those subjects.”

To witness real-life applications of what they learned through the challenges, campers visited TECO Energy
plant in Ruskin, FL, where Timothy Conway, senior consulting engineer showed students and teachers turbines, generators and transformers used in industrial settings to create and/or conserve energy. “Before when I was in science class I thought energy was just turning the switch on or, off, but now I know there is much more technology involved” that goes behind the scenes, said Paulino Ramirez, a 7th grader from Turkey Creek Middle School.  Through it all, teachers at all three schools hope the camp will help develop scientific, critical thinking skills, but more importantly “students will learn how to deconstruct a task and use analytical skills to derive a solution.”

Impact from the energy camp has been tremendously positive. “We tracked the very first group of students who did this camp during the academic year and they did phenomenally” said Dawn Simon, teacher at Pierce Middle School. According to Simon, the program has gotten students thinking, seriously, about college and what program they’d like to pursue in college. Simon noted students’ grades significantly improved to mostly A’s and B’s, and she noticed a greater commitment to succeed academically and to secure leadership opportunities in school.

Indeed post camp survey conducted by FLATE reflected:

100% of the participants said they learned new things about energy and that overall the camp was a good experience
83% said that they believe the camp made them think about a career in clean energy
72% said that they believe the camp would help them make a future career choice
56% said that they might consider a career in energy now
94% said that the instructor allowed everyone to participate

“I appreciate FLATE for giving these kids the opportunity as every year they look forward to attending the
energy camp” said Simon. “They love it and spread the word among their friends. It’s a program that is needed, is making a difference, and I expect it to grow in the coming academic year.” Susan Alamillo and Sevigny Ball, teachers at Turkey Creek Middle School say the program not only benefits AVID Excel students, but they can implement some of the learning strategies with other students as well. “I hope the Governor will see the benefits of the program and will continue to support the program.”

For more information on the energy camp contact Nina Stokes, FLATE-FESC project manager at nstokes@hccfl.edu and 813.259.6587, or visit www.fl-ate.org