Local Program Using STEAM Education for Camps During Summer Break Local Group Using STEAM Education for Camp During Summer Break

Challenge Island CNY focuses on creativity and hands-on learning for students.

ANC: STEAM education is a trendy teaching style that has made its way it Central New York. NCC’s Griffin Della Penna shares more about a national program called Challenge Island and their initiative for kids to continue learning during summer break.

DELLA PENNA: Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math or STEAM, is an educational approach that focuses on creativity and hands-on learning. Teacher Leslie Blumer already sees the positive impact on students here in Syracuse.

BLUMER: They just played and you don’t really get to see that all that often, like a lot of the times kids are in front of screens.

DELLA PENNA: During the week-long camp, students grow their imagination by building on…

BLUMER: Their problem solving skills and building that stamina because kids can get really discouraged really quickly.

DELLA PENNA: Blumer, who is a special education teacher during the year, loves STEAM because of the amount of growth in a short amount of time.

BLUMER: Their happiness and their confidence in themselves and their abilities rather than their disabilities.

DELLA PENNA: Challenge Island CNY’s next initiative is to implement their teaching into local districts for the upcoming school year. Griffin Della Penna, NCC News.

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.”


Campers Keller, 8 and Doug, 7 working together to build a fort with PVC pipe.
Campers Keller, 8 and Doug, 7 working together to build a fort with PVC pipe.
© 2023 Griffin Della Penna

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.


Campers conducting a chemical reaction with vinegar and baking soda.
Campers conducting a chemical reaction with vinegar and baking soda.
© 2023 Griffin Della Penna

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

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