At the West Cook YMCA, youth programming— from preschool, to after-school and summer camp— engages the entire child.

From physical fitness programs, such as swim instruction and basketball, to arts and crafts and skills-based learning like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programming, the Y is helping children develop healthy bodies and healthy minds.

Youth Development Director Elizabeth Lopez says the West Cook Y had one of its most successful summer camp seasons this year.

“We surpassed previous years’ numbers in terms of registered campers coming into the door and staying longer. It’s been wonderful to be at St. John’s in Forest Park this summer. We had a lot of flexibility in space, and it was a place that campers could call their own. From STEM activities to cooking classes in a full-fledged commercial kitchen, the kids enjoyed a very busy and fun summer.”

Lopez notes that STEM programming was a welcome addition to this year’s popular Y summer camps.

“This year we were selected as one of ten Y’s to receive a Thingamajig© grant. The $5,000 grant was meant to implement STEM programming at the Y during the summer programming. Two of our staff members, Rebecca Boblett, our School Age Coordinator and Kinyeta Porter, our Lead Camp Counselor and STEM Specialist, travelled to Washington D.C. for training,” Lopez explained.

This summer, all campers were exposed to STEM activities, and many of the campers participated in STEM through the camp’s new Boost activities, concentrated specialty classes with a more focused approach.  Whether it was creating volcanoes that exploded or engineering race cars out of recycled materials, Lopez reports that the STEM Boosts were some of the more popular camp activities.

Summer camp STEM activities culminated in a Thingamajig© Convention near the end of the camp schedule. Open to the community and to families of campers, the convention highlighted camp STEM activities and included science challenges, invention stations and strategic games.

According to Lopez, the STEM skills implemented this summer will spill over into the Y’s after-school and preschool programming this school year.

“Last year, we participated in a pilot program that added upgrades to our Afterschool Program. This year, one of the upgrades will be STEM programming. We’re going to have people from STEM professions come in and share with our students. Research shows that not as many females, minorities or people from low-income backgrounds work in the STEM fields. Exposing our children to professionals in these positions will help them envision themselves in these fields later in life,” she said.

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