You’d think summertime would be the perfect time for a teenager to take it easy, sleep late and use all the data on their parents’ phone plans.
But for about 75 rising freshmen at East Wake and Knightdale High Schools, the past three weeks have been all about getting a head start on their high school careers.
The students are involved in Students Discover Academy. This is the second year of the program in Wake County and students from Wendell Middle, Zebulon Middle and East Wake Middle were invited to participate in the three-week STEM camp, which meets each weekday at Knightdale High School.
The camp is just the beginning of the program, which follows the participants through their first year of high school and exposes them to additional learning opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Once the school year begins, students are paired with adult mentors with STEM backgrounds and together, the pairs talk about professional opportunities in the STEM field and work together on STEM-related projects.
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Laura Albrecht, the Magnet Coordinator at Knightdale High School, said students were invited to the camp based on their performance in STEM-related classes and the likelihood that college was in their future. She says the students who chose to participate have shown an interest not just in the science and math offered in the camp, but in the prospects it develops for their future.
“One of the things we do is travel on Saturdays to all six of the colleges and universities in Wake County,” Albrecht said. “We take field trips and really try to involve them in citizen science,” Abrecht said.
During the summer camp, the students are invited to develop science-based questions and then create experiments to help them find the answers. The students are scheduled to present their findings Wednesday, July 27 at the Museum of Natural Sciences. “We don’t know the answers to the questions they are asking,” Abrecht admits. “We want them to go find the answers. It really involves critical thinking, thinking outside the box and trying to figure out how to find the answers to their questions.”
The eastern Wake program is the only one of its kind in Wake County. The Alamance-Burlington school system is implementing the program for the first time this summer and next summer, the program will roll out in Pender County. Funding for the program comes from a host of sources, most notably the National Science Foundation. Other partners include N.C. State University, The Science House, N.C. Museum of Natural Science and the Kenan Fellows program.
Albrecht says students in the program who have no completed their freshmen year of high school had an easier time navigating their first year of high school and performed better than their peers in STEM-related courses. They also have developed relationships with adults outside the school system who will remain as contacts for the students as they complete high school and enter post-secondary education.
Jessica Lopez, who just completed the eighth grade at East Wake Middle School, said giving up part of her summer to participate in the camp has been worth the time. “I think it will help me in the future, maybe even help me find a job one day,” Lopez said. Her research partner, Kishaya Bellamy, who just graduated from Zebulon Middle School, echoed those comments. “The time goes by really fast. It won’t be long before we’re looking at schools and what we want to do.”
Be a mentor
One of the biggest challenges facing the Students Discover Academy is finding professionals in STEM careers who are willing to mentor the students.
Anyone interested in taking part, can sign up online at www.studentsdisover.org/academy