“Let me ask you a question; do plants eat things the way we humans do?”
Twenty pairs of young eyes at United Community’s Creekside Community Center turn towards Samantha, an instructor with The Children’s Science Center. She’s holding a laminated poster with scientific diagrams on it.
A chorus of “No’s” answer back. One child mentions a plant he saw on TV that eats bugs.
“Very good! That’s called a venus flytrap. However, most plants have to make their own food,” Samantha explains, as her colleague Kelly passes out materials for the activity.
The 45-minute program is part of the agency’s SPARK Summer Camp program — a partnership between United Community’s Community Centers and The Children’s Science Center Lab, coined “The Tinker Thinker’s Program”.
Sponsored by Battelle and AT&T, The Tinker Thinkers Program promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math) learning for youth in the Route 1 community.
“We’re excited to have approximately 70 kids enrolled in our SPARK Summer Camps at our two Community Centers,” says Director of Community Empowerment Tamara Cobbs.
All camp activities are centered around a weekly STEAM-related theme and include games, team-building activities, science projects, a group field trip, and visits from the Children’s Science Center Lab team as well as other partners such as Fit4Kids Yoga, the INOVA Healthy Plate Club, the Fairfax County Public Library, and the Fort Hunt Elementary Bookmobile.
“Everyday, our goal is to get our campers excited about learning,” Creekside Village Community Center Manager Amanda Jackson (AJ) explains. “Whether we’re talking about Space or Dinosaurs — we want to help get their minds ready for school next year.”
The COVID pandemic has added a new level of urgency behind educational activities at Summer camps. Studies show that last year the average student only managed to learn 67% of the math material they would have learned in a typical school year. That means that students lost the equivalent of three months of learning.
Studies show that these numbers were even lower for students living in communities like Creekside — where most families have limited access to the internet, dedicated study spaces, and other educational resources.
“We know that some of our youth have a long way to go to get caught back up,” AJ adds. “We’re here to help them, every step of the way.”
The SPARK Summer Program is just the latest of a series of initiatives designed to support students and their families. Throughout the pandemic, United Community’s Community Centers have worked hard to provide community members with tutoring programs, school supplies, and easy access to food and study snacks.
“These kids and their families are the future of our community,” Tamara says. “They deserve the best.”
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