This story was originally published on on August 9, 2018 and written by Naheed Huq. Click here to view the original publication of the story.

In the last few weeks, I have had the pleasure of dropping in at a number of summer camps across the region and have been amazed at the different types of experiences available to our young people. While we often think of camps as recreational or fun, today’s summer camps are much more than that. They help students prepare for success in college, careers, and also life.

Students with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills are among the most in-demand in southeast Michigan. Ensuring that the region has the necessary STEM pipeline is essential to regional economic growth. One effort to help create the pipeline is the Oakland Schools Middle School STEM Camps.

Middle school STEM camps

Oakland Schools Middle School STEM camps were offered at each of the four Career Technical Campuses. Each week, a different grade experienced a week of science in an age-appropriate and fun way. For the first three days, students experience a half-day of a different science – such as engineering, information technology, culinary arts, robotics, health sciences, and visual imaging. The robotics class creates and tests robots; in culinary arts, students learn about temperature by making ice cream; and engineering students build and race cars. On the fourth day, campers learn about STEM programs at Oakland University. The fifth day is Career Day – where they hear about STEM careers and how to prepare for them.

In this second year of the Oakland Schools STEM camps, about 1,000 students participated. The program includes after-care from 3-6 p.m. by the YMCA. The cost is $195 per student; scholarships are available.

High-school students learn about leadership

While science skills and knowledge are in high demand, young people also need soft skills, such as communications, leadership, and cultural awareness. These are the skills that 44 students in the 2018 Junior Leadership Macomb (JLM) will learn about during their four-day summer camp program. The lesson continues over the next school year at monthly sessions where they attend tours of county commissions, cultural institutions, and manufacturing plants. They also participate in fall and spring service projects. The JLM program is sponsored by Macomb Community College, with day sponsors including BeaumontMacomb CountyFirst State Bank, and SMART.

Karen Smith, Executive Director of Leadership Macomb, sees the six-year-old junior program as a way of “stemming the brain drain from Macomb County by helping students realize that the county is pretty cool with lots of things to experience including great recreation, education, and jobs.” She added that the commitment of Leadership Macomb alumni also creates opportunities for JLM students to participate in job shadowing which can lead to internships. This is an important resource for students who are better prepared to make decisions about college and careers as a result of this experience.

The participants are incoming high school juniors from 21 Macomb County school districts. The four-day program provides basic understanding of the environment, criminal justice, health, and human services, as well as personal growth and teambuilding. There are presentations, tours, career panels, and a focus on role-playing in different scenarios. For example, during Public Safety Day, Darnell Blackburn, a former police officer taught students about cultural competency, bias, and the need for effective communications by seeing their reactions to common public safety scenarios. Students also heard from Carrie Lynn Fuca, Chief Judge of 41B District Court, about the legal system.

Students attend Junior Leadership Macomb for different reasons. Emily from Armada appreciates the “really good experience of learning about hospital careers through hands-on experiences and about the importance of attitude.” Bella from Lakeview Schools values the focus on building confidence and leadership skills. Drake from Sterling Heights likes the opportunity to explore careers, job-shadowing opportunities, and volunteering experiences to raise money for different causes.

Camps for young adults

While early exposure to careers and life skills provide students with many advantages, there are also specialized camps for young adults. These include Excel Employment Options summer camps. Excel is a nonprofit organization that works with individuals with some degree of disability to eliminate barriers to employment in collaboration with Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), businesses, local schools, and other agencies in Livingston, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties. In Washtenaw County, Excel works with MRS and Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD) to teach social skills and work readiness in five high schools.

It also runs several summer camps that provide students with paid work experience in areas such as health care, assisted living, janitorial services, and environmental careers. Natasha Doan-Motsinger, Excel’s Regional Director for Livingston and Washtenaw County, developed an eight-week summer camp at Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor. Eleven young people, ages 14-26, are participating in the camp, learning about plants and the environment three days a week.

In the fall, students will go back to school, apprenticeships, or the workplace. Several students go on to the Michigan Career and Technical Institute which offers 13 training programs and support services to prepare them for technical careers.

It is exciting to see the variety of summer camps that prepare young people for college, careers, and life. In addition to helping students and parents, camps help educators build summer learning into their offerings. Employers can provide exposure to careers that students may not have thought about, and ultimately the economy benefits because young people can make more informed decisions about their future education and career pathways.

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