There are a multitude of summer camps to which you can send your kids this year where they could learn plenty. But there’s only one in the Dayton area that will let them actually fly a real plane.
Launched in 2010, the Dayton-based Air Camp offers seventh through ninth grade students a comprehensive STEM education using aviation and aerospace as the medium. The program also focuses on the values of scholarship, leadership and citizenship. The program draws students from all over the country every year.
“(The founders) wanted to create an opportunity for students across the country to engage actively in STEM activities that are primarily connected to aviation and aeronautics,” said Director of Operations Shannon Coblentz. “They noticed from their line of work that there started to be a shortage in those areas. They believed that it was not necessarily a lack of interest or capability, but lack of knowledge that these opportunities exist.”
The week-long camp hopes to catch middle school-aged students at a time period where studies show they tend to steer away from STEM-related subjects. Coblentz, a former principal, says confusion is often behind those decisions.
“It’s usually based on misinformation about what’s required in the STEM fields, as well as sometimes having a lack of understanding of what an actual STEM profession is. We can help them to gain confidence to serve in the STEM fields and that can pique their interest in those fields.”
Air Camp, made up entirely of teachers with STEM backgrounds, provides students with 15 hours of team-oriented educational activities daily, while taking them to various locations around the Dayton area. Throughout the week, the students are taught STEM concepts, and then tasked with using critical thinking skills they’ve obtained to solve problems or achieve goals. Team challenges include a simulated plane crash where campers are taught survival skills as well as using items commonly found on a plane to recover a black box from under water.
“What they do is go through the actual rescue module to help save passengers if they ever ended up in the water. They are trained to save themselves first and the other passengers second,” Coblentz said.
And, yes, after taking flight ground school and charting their course, the campers will get the opportunity to fly as student pilots.
However, Air Camp is now also offering a less-intensive program for younger students for the very first time. The day camp, designed for fourth through sixth grades, focuses partly on aviation, but also covers engineering, rocketry, botany, robotics, art and more. Like its counterpart, the day camp will take the students to various sites around the Miami Valley.
The program is designed to take the intimidation out of learning about the STEM field.
“We will help them to understand that a butterfly in particular has to overcome the same forces to fly that an airplane does. We know that will help them feel more comfortable about the physics of flight,” Coblentz explained.
Though the day camp students won’t get to fly an actual airplane, they will learn to code and fly their own unmanned aerial vehicle.
The application process for middle school students includes an essay of 300 words or less and a teacher’s letter of recommendation. Day camp students are admitted on a first-come-first-served basis.
Coblentz believes both camps are vital to how students approach STEM subjects and in showing them the long-term possibilities therein.
“We want to make sure they know that whatever they’re passionate about at this age, they can find a way to make a living at that as an adult,” she said.
“Most importantly, we’ll teach them how to use data, and emphasize for both camps that the wrong answer is not a problem. Knowing what to do with the wrong answer is the critical skill.”