Entrepreneurs Neighbors

New kids camp adds entrepreneurialism to free summer fun curriculum

Kalamazoo nonprofit Steps to Victory focuses on teaching autonomy while reducing the summer lag that can impact the next year for crucial elementary school grades.

Summer fun can be stimulating too, but the Steps to Victory nonprofit in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood wants to make sure kids in a key developmental age group come away from their camp with core skillsets that serve them into the future.

The STEAME summer camp expands on the usual STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) by including entrepreneurship as well.

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From designing math-based quilts and learning about water filtration to making ice cream and gardening, Kalamazoo kids who attend STEAME camp will ultimately be learning the skills to voice and execute their own ideas. This autonomy gained from entrepreneurship classes, in addition to maintaining math and reading skills, is intended to help them return to school in the fall with excitement for learning beyond the classroom.

Organizers say keeping students busy with engaging and hands-on activities illustrate possible career paths. It’s also a preventative measure against a trend in the American school system: students who fall behind during formative learning years are also susceptible to disruptive behavior and, instead of stepped-up support, are held back, face disciplinary action, and are preyed upon in the criminal justice system.

“There is a link between crime and illiteracy with close to 70 percent of inmates being functionally illiterate,” said D’Andrea Bolden, who is spearheading the summer camp for Steps to Victory. “We want to combat that by offering youth grades two through six with an academic camp with a strong emphasis on literacy.”

This is the first such camp for the organization. In the past they have provided SAT preparation and college campus tours, though were unable to do so the past couple years due to the pandemic.

“Even in the midst of having the STEAME module, we are still going to be working on typical grade level math and reading, to combat summer lag,” said Bolden. Summer lag describes a loss of learning that can occur in the weeks when kids are not in enrolled in classes. This has been an ongoing issue in Kalamazoo Public Schools and is part of the reason both Woodward School for Technology and Research and Washington Writers Academy shifted their schedules to reduce summer break by more than half in 2018.

STEAME summer camp not only gives kids the opportunity “to see science and math can be fun,” said Bolden, but they also get to “see some of the career options that they may not be aware of.” The camp is free due to funding from the Stryker Johnston Foundation, Bolden said, and includes daily snacks and meals.

By adding the entrepreneurial aspect to this camp, Steps to Victory is helping both kids and parents see creative potential in young people. “Kid entrepreneurs is a big thing. Kids are creators, innovators, inventors just like adults, but sometimes there’s no outlet to allow that creativity to be used,” said Bolden. At the STEAME summer camp, kids will be given the space for things like brainstorming business ideas, products or services they’d offer, and marketing strategies.

These skills give “them the ability [so] that they can dive into STEAM [careers] and still have the autonomy to build their own dream and their own visions,” said Bolden.

STEAME summer camp will take place at Seasons of Change Church, 1914 March Street, from 8am to 1pm Monday through Friday starting July 6 and ending August 2.

The organization is taking reservations now at stepstovictory.org.

Editor’s note: the original version of the story referred to the Northside neighborhood instead of Edison. It has been updated.

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