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STEM Camp for Migrant Students Kicks Off for Summer Learning, Fun

Andrew Dundas
BPR News

An educational summer camp for the children of migrant farm workers is in its second year on the campus of the University of North Carolina - Asheville. 

The eight-day camp for Buncombe County Schools middle and high school students is focused on STEM education. This year’s theme is environmental conservation. 

Tuesday’s activity was supposed to be held outside, but a torrential downpour meant the kids had to conduct the experiment inside a classroom laboratory. The rain didn’t spoil the fun. 

“I asked them if they wanted to go out and collect soil in the rain, some of them with no umbrellas, and they had a great time,” Irene Rossell, chair of the environmental studies department at UNC Asheville, said. 

She lead the hands on experiment looking at the relationship between soil and water. They’re determining whether water passes faster through soil or sand. The goal is for kids to put the scientific method into practice and to have fun.

Credit Andrew Dundas / BPR News
BPR News
Ina Gonzalez Jones, migrant education coordinator for BCS, guided high school students during Tuesdays camp experiment. “They’re learning how to work together they’re forming a community, even though they’re all from different areas of Buncombe County, they’re all becoming one big family and discovering together," Gonzalez Jones said.

While the rain spattered outside, groups of kids huddled around beakers, funnels and stopwatches -- watching water drip from funnels filled with dirt. 

Students Mayella, Jasmine and Diego take turns writing down measurements. In between their scientific observation, they chatted and snapped selfies on an Ipad. They seem to be having a good time. That’s what instructors like Evan Cuozzo had hoped for. 

“If the students are here having fun, if it doesn’t feel like traditional school, we find that they engage more with the material,” Cuozzo said. 

That’s especially important for this group of kids, the children of migrant farm workers, because they’re only here for a few months. For many migrant students, summer break can be boring -- either staying home or going out in the field with their parents. 

“With any kid, there’s what you call ‘summer slide,’” outreach specialist Nancy Moore said. “And with kids that are moving around a lot and changing schools, it’s even worse because a lot of times they’re even further behind because they’ve missed something, they’re moving from state to state and the standards aren’t the same.” 

In addition to the summer enrichment camp, the program includes field trips and a “virtual science club.” It’s essentially an online classroom that connects to professors and learning materials they can access, no matter where they are in the state or the country, as they travel with their parents from harvest to harvest.  

The  "Science on the Move" summer program from migrant students is a partnership between Buncombe County Schools and UNC Asheville and is funded by a three-year grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. 

Moore says the aim is to get migrant students to ultimately see themselves on a college campus and into STEM careers.

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