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Connecting to Possibilities

Campers look on as Associate Professor of Chemistry Amy Witter demonstrates a dyeing technique in the lab.

Campers look on as Associate Professor of Chemistry Amy Witter demonstrates a dyeing technique in the lab. Photo by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson.

Summer camp opens new doors for youth

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Summer is an outstanding time for students to branch out socially and academically, but for middle-schoolers—too old for most day camps and too young for summer jobs and internships—the options are limited. Without the structure provided during the school year, they are at high risk of summer learning loss and restlessness, and during a critical stage in their development, they can fall behind.

Here is where the CONNECT camp comes in. A partnership between Dickinson, the Carlisle Arts Learning Center (CALC), the Carlisle Area School District and Jump Street, this annual four-week program offers local middle school youth a chance to learn something new, to get creative, and to explore careers and civic engagement in a fun and interactive environment. It is funded in part by a grant by the Partnership for Better Health.

crafts at the connect camp

Photo by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson.

“Each year, we hear from youth and families that this is one of the best summer-enrichment programs they, or their child, has participated in,” said Joyce Bylander, vice president and dean of student life, who heads the program. And word is getting out: 26 Carlisle middle-schoolers are participating in the program this year, up from 13 when the camp was introduced in 2009 (12 more took part in a two-week high school CONNECT program, introduced in June).

Academic Department Coordinator Meta Bowman ’03, an artist-in-residence at CALC, coordinates the program and leads arts workshops along with CALC staff, culminating in a student art show in CALC’s Pomfret Street gallery. Other workshops being led by Dickinson staff and faculty include improv by Josh Eisenberg, director of student leadership and campus engagement, video production by Multimedia Specialist Brenda Landis, and photography by Lecturer in Art & Art History Andrew Bale. Additionally, Faculty Clarinetist Elisabeth Stimpert challenges students to think more broadly and critically about the music all around them; and Professor of Chemistry Amy Witter brings crafts and science together in the lab.

Photo by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Photo by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson.

“Kids love working with their hands, and this gives them the opportunity to explore the fun side of chemistry,” says Witter, a two-year CONNECT camp veteran who will teach students to make soap by mixing lye with sodium hydroxide and vegetable oil, and also to dye their own bandanas using color swirling techniques. “I’m a big proponent of exposing kids to new ways to think about science before their opinions are shaped by what they’ve studied in middle and high school.”

Stimpert, who teaches the students about composer John Cage’s use of nontraditional sound sources and then gives them space to create their own music, feels the same. “I think it’s incredibly important to use summertime as a resource to explore subjects and experiences you might not run into in your daily life,” she says, noting that her own childhood experiences at music camp paved the path to her career. “It can be transformative.”

Photo by Meta Bowman.

Photo by Carrie Breschi.

Especially since the campers are attending some arts, science and humanities sessions on a college campus and eating lunches in Dickinson’s Dining Hall, Bowman adds. “This affords kids an opportunity to become acquainted with a college atmosphere, and encourages them to later apply to college, all while having a great time and learning something.”

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Published July 22, 2016