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Salisbury High School hosts summer STEM camp

Scattered throughout four classrooms on the third floor of Salisbury High School, 43 students have gathered around tables and desks for a collection of hands-on experiences.

In one classroom, learners are studying splatters of red paint — simulated blood splatters for an exploration of forensic investigation. Down the hall, they’re constructing stereoscopes from cardboard boxes, an early form of 3D viewing.

Still others are crafting bridges or race tracks, efforts to explore physics, architecture and aerodynamics — all heavy topics for a group of rising sixth- to ninth-grade learners.

But, said Kyle Whisnant, organizer of the Salisbury High-based Summer STEM camp, participants are surprisingly engaged in the lofty courses of study.

“We wanted to give kids already interested in STEM-related subjects the chance to explore real-world applications for these studies,” he said. “We’re giving them an environment in which to explore that lets them see the different careers and options available for them.”

This year is Whisnant’s first year hosting the nine-year strong summer offering. Previously, the camps were dictated by grade level, and all activities occurred on campus. In effort to encourage enrollment and career-exploration and exposure, Whisnant this year allowed students to self-elect their courses of study for the weeklong sessions.

And as he has his bus license, this has also offered the opportunity for ventures into the community: students studying physics and architecture ventured to Wil-Cox bridge to chart and study design elements. Aerodynamics students visited Hendrick Automotive in Concord and students studying virtual reality will visit a Winston-Salem-based company.

Following in the footsteps of her private investigator mother, rising-sixth grader Madison Gooch signed up for this week’s exploration in forensics.

“I find this all really interesting,” she said, “just the chance to get into the mind of someone and really understand why they did what they did and what exactly it was that they did.”

The topics are not just areas of interest to enrollees, said Whisenant, but areas of particular passion for teachers: Rowan-Salisbury staff paid for the summer effort through grants made to the STEM camp.

Raven Cox, a teacher at Salisbury High leading this week’s exploration of aerodynamics, will next week lead students through an effort to code an artificial pancreas.

“This is something pretty close to my heart as my daughter suffers from Type 1 diabetes,” she said, explaining that her daughter’s life with the condition is tremendously better with a “Pod” — a device that mimics the insulin releases of a healthy pancreas. “These students could be the very people who create something that makes her life even better.”

Whisenant agreed.  Not only did the camp offer opportunities for students to explore possible careers, he said, but to venture outside of their comfort zone in academics and social aspects.

“A lot of kids get into a sort of cocoon within their own school where they don’t have to branch out,” he said. “Here, they’re working with other students from different schools and getting the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.”

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