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Article of Interest - Summer Camp

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'Emerging Sectors' Maps New Type of Summer Camp
Eric Morath, MLive.com, June 16, 2005
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What will your kids tell classmates they did this summer? Attend soccer camp? Swim at the pool? Study nanotechnology? Instructors at Oakland Schools hope the response will be the latter as the school system is modeling much of its summer enrichment programs after the county's Emerging Sectors initiative.

The curriculum received praise from government officials and industry leaders, who say getting technology training into youngsters' hands is essential in creating tomorrow's high-skilled workforce.

Emerging Sectors is the county's program intended to attract high-technology companies in fields outside of the auto industry to Oakland. Areas such as nanotechnology, robotics, alternative energy and homeland security are both among the sectors identified for job growth by the county government and areas where courses will be offered to Oakland elementary, middle and high school students.

"The emerging sectors program is the vehicle for public education to get on the right track," said Karen Winters, a career-focused education consultant at Oakland Schools. She leads the summer program.

"It told us the areas where we needed to accelerate our education."

Oakland Schools is not under the county government's control. The idea to use emerging sectors as a model for the summer programming came after school officials spoke with the county's economic development teams, Winters said.

"When the county is trying to attract high tech companies it is our, along with the parents, responsibility to provide a work force," she said. "Emerging sectors gives us a road map."

Of the 41 programs planned for this summer, 31 will have students study emerging technology and industries. Last summer, 21 programs were offered. Construction at several schools closed classrooms and held program enrollment to 71 students. More than 75 have enrolled for this summer's program which can accommodate 361 students.

Some classes began June 15, but many others are not slated to begin until July.

County officials applauded the programs, saying working to ensure a high-tech workforce will assist them when attempting to attract companies to the area.

"We think it's fantastic economic development is a long term plan, not just a 12 months project, and this fits with our vision," said Maureen Krauss, deputy director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County.

"The number one thing we have to offer companies is a tech trained worked force. This program will help get everyone in the mindset to start that training as young as possible."

The idea of sending children as young as five to nanotechnology classes or enrolling high school students in homeland security camp may be jarring parents who expect their children to take on more relaxed pursuits during the summer, or to those who expect the county's school system to stick to reading, writing and arithmetic.

However, Winters, a longtime proponent of career-focused education, said the education system needs to be shaken up and this summer's classes are just a first step to bring the emerging sectors theme to Oakland Schools teaching and four technical campuses.

"This country is not the top dog any more and people don't understand that," she said, arguing that if educators consider the population in just China, Russia and India they'll see that every U.S. student must have strong, career-ready skills to compete against the top workers in other countries.

"If (those other counties) only highly educate 10 percent of their people, it's still 300 million people - that is the entire population of this country," she said.

The classes just don't teach students technology, "but allows them to apply high level academics in a way that has meaning to them and in the real world."

While the classes are rooted in technology and academics, they are intended to be of interest to grade level for which they are designed. Classes with an emerging theme, include:

Homeland security camp.
Students will conduct vulnerability studies and mock disasters to learn about emergency response and community security issues.

Biotech laboratory preparation and crime scene investigations.
Students will learn the scientific method and proper lab procedure and visit with police.

Robotics camp.
High school students will receive hands-on training at on industrial robots.

Among the most interesting classes is a course designed by Michigan State University associate professor Dean Aslam, which introduces kindergarten through high school students to micro- and nanotechnology.

In the class, students will interact with small robots and learn the concept of "small tech" within the context of examples they can understand.

"We didn't get to use a small robot and learn how to program it as a second or third grader," he said. "When these students when they go to universities, they can create revolution because they'll have been exposed to logic and math at an early age."

Introducing students, even kindergartens, to nano- and micro technologies is something that needs to be done, said Rick Snyder, CEO and founder of Ann Arbor-based Ardesta LLC.

Ardesta is an investment firm that focuses on "small tech" companies.

"In the technology field, the sooner someone gets exposure, the better," he said. "If someone doesn't get on track early, then typically they won't take the background classes they need. That leads people into liberal arts or business fields and they may find out too late that they have an interest in fast-growing technology.

The Oakland Schools program also was well received by Troy-based Automation Alley, which counts mostly technology companies among its more than 500 members.

"It is definitely important to expose kids to exciting career opportunities at an early age," said Lisa Mauch, assistant director of the Automation Alley Member Consortium. "Not only does it get them excited about their future in a way that they can see and touch, but it helps them make the right choices when they are mapping out their academic coursework."

     

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