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Campers learn innovation and invention with a little help from a farm tractor

On the final day of Camp Accelerate, some big tech made a visit to little technology wizards.

The Carroll County Public Schools summer camp is focused on invention and innovation, including a module on Farm Tech. To bring a real-life example to the campers, Finch Services, Inc., of Westminster brought over one of their John Deere 8000 series farm tractors on Friday.

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“I thought a tractor would be as big as a lawn mower,” said camper Yansi Iraheta, 11. It was a cool surprise when the John Deere rolled into the parking lot with its 6-foot-tall back wheels.

The campers took turns getting to climb in the tractor, imagining what it would be like to farm on a real-life, large scale.

ESOL Resource teacher Miriam Pipes helps camper Lucy Chavarria Ascencio, 7, down from the cab of an 8000 series farm tractor provided by Finch Services during Camp Invention at William Winchester Elementary School in Westminster Friday, July 26, 2019.
ESOL Resource teacher Miriam Pipes helps camper Lucy Chavarria Ascencio, 7, down from the cab of an 8000 series farm tractor provided by Finch Services during Camp Invention at William Winchester Elementary School in Westminster Friday, July 26, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Throughout the week, they had been programming little robots that simulated planting.

The ag-related activities were just one of the modules of Camp Accelerate, held at William Winchester Elementary School. The camp, a pilot running for the first time this year, was funded through a state grant. Though it was open to the community, it was targeted at English learners and most of the campers were William Winchester students.

Other activities included programming robots to play soccer, collecting probability data through fair-style games, learning about patents, making slime and building “roller coasters” with craft materials.

Elvin Villalta, 10, said the soccer activity was his favorite. In addition to programming the bots, the campers also decorated them to make them as functional as possible. Elvin said he used Popsicle sticks on the front of his to make it a strong defender.

“They’re really innovative,” CCPS ESOL Supervisor Pam Mesta said of the campers.

Some of the activities correlated with English Language Arts standards, like the roller coaster activity where campers presented on their coaster for adults and other campers.

The adults at the camp were resource teachers in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and most of them worked at William Winchester, meaning they were familiar faces for the campers.

The campers were split into groups by grade, from kindergarten and first, all the way up to a group of fifth to seventh-graders.

William Winchester is also one of the sites where breakfast and lunch are offered through the Summer Food Service Program, and campers’ families are invited to join them.

Friday morning, the youngest campers were finishing up a week of ocean-themed activities, investigating a “fossil” of a fish to determine whether it was extinct.

Rachel Kowalski, who is an ESOL resource teacher at William Winchester and Cranberry Station, said one of her favorites was an activity building miniature boats and testing how much cargo they could hold.

“The kids were really engaged,” she said. Spending all of their time engaged in creative and hands-on activities was really fun, she said.

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Bryan Shumaker, the school’s system’s STEM Coordinator, said he was impressed with how well the teachers were doing differentiation for the activities. In other words, they might give the older campers more freedom on the design projects, while giving the little ones more directions.

Overall, the goal of the camp was related to the second pillar of the school system’s strategic plan, which is to “strengthen productive family and community partnerships,” he said. In its first year, they wanted to see whether the camp would draw strong engagement from the community.

Mesta said that for language acquisition, having a “healthy three weeks” with campers over the summer while they are not in school is helpful to prevent summer slide.

One activity all three weeks was decorating a superhero cape and deciding on their names and powers. Unsurprising to anyone familiar with kids, many of the youngest girls had freezing ice powers and were named Elsa.

Before going out to check out the tractor, all of the kindergarten and first-grade girls decided to put on their superhero regalia.

“This tractor’s never been this cute,” said William Winchester principal Erin Sikorski.

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