SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — A local program is using STEAM education to develop the skills of children during its summer camps here in Central New York. Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (or STEAM) is an adolescent teaching style that has gained traction since it was created in the early 2000s.
STEAM focuses on creativity and hands-on learning and prepares students to will to become innovators by thinking critically. It provides students the tools to solve problems through application instead of visual or auditory learning.
Challenge Island is a corporation located in Georgia founded by acclaimed author educator, Sharon Estroff. After selling the first franchise in 2013, Challenge Island has evolved into over 150 chapters in 26 states across the country. The top STEAM program in the world has been on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 list for six straight years.
Program Director for Challenge Island CNY Rachel Gleason has a background in nannying and daycare. When the opportunity came to run the franchise from owner Terri Lowe in January, Gleason felt obligated to take the offer for what STEAM has done for her children.
“I absolutely love this program. I have three kids of my own, and my oldest [who is eight] has gotten to participate in STEAM,” Gleason said. “It helped me see this program first-hand have an impact on my daughter which has just solidified my love for it.”
Even though Gleason was on vacation with her family, camp was still on is at Lysander Town Park in Baldwinsville. Leslie Blumer, a special education teacher at Southern Cayuga, started teaching for Challenge Island CNY this year. Gleason was looking for extra help and thought that her former classmate would be a perfect fit for the role.
Each week of camp features a different theme that children are interested in. Last week’s Mine Island Camp (a spin off on the popular Minecraft franchise), was a huge hit with the students due to the programs unique approach of a fun, engaging experience.
“The kids built their fort, and their imagination blew up. They used the whole entire room as a fort, and they just played,” Blumer said. “You don’t really get to see that all that often, like a lot of the times kids are in front of screens.”
One of the interesting aspects of camps with Challenge Island is how they are “screen-free,” using little to no technology. Elementary-aged children lack collaborative skills stemming from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Blumer credits parents utilizing technology as a way for educating out of necessity because physical interaction was at a minimum. But there’s a different type of skill set that this group is missing after being so reliant on iPads or TV.
“STEAM education is so incredibly important for kids to be exposed to in many ways other than in school. Challenge Island does an incredible job of providing that education with hundreds of hands-on projects, but it also puts a huge emphasis on teamwork and public speaking,” Gleason said.
Gleason’s goal for the rest of 2023 is to continue gaining recognition and expand the program further. Previously the franchise only did camps in the Marcellus and Onondaga Hill area but started to test out other areas this summer.
“For the remainder of the year I want to get known by as many schools as possible and be providing our program to kids weekly. Whether it’s in school field trips, afternoon programs, or family night out events, I have high hopes of having at least one family event happening every month in several towns,” Gleason said.
If you’re interested in signing up for a Challenger Island CNY event, visit: https://login.challenge-island.com/events.php?location=114