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EAC and EASI sponsor 29 local students to Tonto Creek STEM Camp in Payson

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EAC and EASI sponsor 29 local students to Tonto Creek STEM Camp in Payson

By Submitted

Thatcher, AZ—Eastern Arizona College’s Science Department teamed up recently with the Eastern Arizona Science Initiative (EASI) to take 29 students from throughout Graham and Greenlee Counties to attend the Tonto Creek STEM Camp also known as Camp Tontozona, just outside of Payson, AZ. The camp was specifically designed to include Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), combined with environmental lessons.

EASI offers Summer Science Camp opportunities for students who have an interest or aptitude in science to participate in a variety of fun, hands-on activities with the help of knowledgeable instructors to enhance their learning and understanding in STEM education. “We hope to inspire these outstanding students to participate in higher level math and science courses in college, and ultimately pursue careers in science,” said Paul Anger, EAC Discovery Park Campus director and director of the EASI Summer Science Camps.

The camp was open to students in grades 7 - 9 and began with an orientation and lesson on nature photography at the EAC Discovery Park Campus.

The next day the students traveled to just outside of Payson for three days and two nights, staying in dorm-style buildings and enjoying meals served in the camp dining hall. Evenings were finished off with inspirational speakers and activities around a campfire large enough for everyone to appreciate. The students participated in several environmental activities including the Night Hike that emphasized nocturnal animals and how nighttime and darkness affect the senses like sight, hearing, and smell. They also shared in the Ecology Hike where they learned to identify native vegetation and micro-environments found there. The hike eventually ended at the beautiful Tonto Creek waterfall where the students were encouraged to safely explore the landscape and ask questions of the instructors and guides. The students were busy throughout the day with a variety of in-depth lessons like orienteering (using compasses and then learning emergency wilderness survival techniques using only materials found in nature). There was also a geology lesson to understand the creation of local canyons and geological formations from erosion and weathering. Other hands-on activities using U-V sensitive paper and plant leaves, flowers, and other items to create silhouette image from the Sun, were also included.

“Everyone’s favorites were the teamwork activities where the students were blindfolded and divided up into two groups: ‘ships’ and ‘mines,’” said Anger. The “mines” are placed in a path and spread out, and the “ships” are guided by leaders through verbal instructions on how to walk through the “Minefield” without bumping into one and “blowing up.”

Another favorite was the Archery lesson where students learned proper techniques and physics principles in archery. The culminating event was the game “21,” where each target ring is worth different points and the students had only three arrows to hit rings totaling 21 points. The Highlight of the camp was when Alejandro Hernandez from Safford Middle School won the competition, even beating “Chupacabra” who was the Tonto Creek Camp Archery instructor.

The camp experience was led by EAC dean of instruction Dr. Phil McBride, who sponsored the event through a STEM education grant to the EAC Science Department from Science Foundation Arizona. All of the leaders and chaperones involved had a wonderful time with the youth and included, along with McBride and his wife Paula, Jackie Madsen (Discovery Park Campus secretary), Mark Madsen (retired EAC mathematics instructor), Felicia Smith (Duncan Middle School Science instructor), Heather Dillman (Ft. Thomas High School technology instructor), and Paul Anger.

“We organize the EASI Summer Science camps as an opportunity for the sharpest student minds in Eastern Arizona to learn advanced science concepts through hands-on activities from knowledgeable instructors,” said Anger. “We want these students to build an interest in the sciences, and gain a motivation to seek advanced STEM courses when in college and ultimately excel in careers in science.”

The Eastern Arizona Science Initiative (EASI) is a collaboration of individuals from throughout Eastern Arizona, including local educators, administrators, and community members who have a united goal of attracting students to science and improving STEM education throughout Eastern Arizona.

“We sincerely appreciate those who helped make the Tonto Creek STEM Camp such a great success: the EAC Science Department’s sponsorship through a Science Foundation – Arizona grant, EAC’s GEAR-UP Program for providing tuition for all participating 8th grade students, and Project LEAP for sponsoring their Ft. Thomas U.S.D. students. We also receive funding from our friends at Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation and the Valley of the Sun United Way for supplies and expenses.”