ALLEGANY, NY—"We get to learn things here we don't learn anywhere else," Ronald James, 9, said of Space Dreamers Science Camp with a smile.
Thursday, he and 17 others sat cross-legged on the carpeted floor of the Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center awaiting the chance to ride on a homemade hoverboard. The students in grades 3 through 6 laughed and marveled over household items they had just reverse engineered, including a bright red remote-control car and a cast-off DVD player.
"There are no words to describe it," Regan, 10, said. "This place is amazing."
The program, in its second year, developed out of the need Commander Sharon Bushnell, coordinator for the space academy, saw for young students during midwinter break. Bushnell and the other commanders decided to take advantage of the need, resulting from weekday boredom, parents' struggles to get the entire week off of work or any combination of other factors, by offering a weeklong camp geared toward students with an interest in space.
Though initially offered to students in grades 4 through 7, Bushnell said she perceived a greater need for serving younger students. And since last year's program had a weak seventh-grade presence, the age group for the 2017 program was shifted.
"We certainly have a stronger presence this year," Bushnell said. "We can go as high as 25 students, but with 18 it's nice. We can give them individual attention and provide them with a more hands-on experience."
This attention was evident Thursday. Commanders stood close by and encouraged students as they learned the basic principles of electric circuits to build their own flashlights or tapped the beat as students practiced the lyrics to their final presentation song, sung to the tune of "One-Eyed, One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater."
The camp came at an opportune time, as an international team of astronomers announced their discovery of seven Earth-size exoplanets Feb. 25.
Bushnell and the other commanders, most of whom are retired teachers, expressed their excitement that the camp fell during such a groundbreaking time in the scientific world.
"The probability that this upcoming generation might be the one to build an actual space colony is starting to become much more real," Bushnell said.
Students had the opportunity to experience various simulations and other space-related activities, including space missions, flight missions and rover design. The various other activities revolved around "the STEAM experience," a variation of STEM incorporating the arts.
Bushnell said the students took their responsibilities and ran with them, using red pop bottle tops for doomsday buttons, creating satellite phones out of cardboard and constructing isolation chambers for anyone at risk of theoretical contamination.
Though many of the students in attendance had dreams unrelated to space and engineering, expressing their desire to become chefs or archaeologists "like Indiana Jones," they had positive words to say of the camp.
Ava, 11, who has aspirations of becoming a doctor, said the camp was fun.
"We get to do a lot of different things," Ava said. "I like team building especially, and I just took apart a DVD player."
Sabastian, 9, shared similar sentiments.
"It's so fun. My favorite part so far is building the space colony."
The camp concluded Friday with a collaborative performance by all 18 participants and the opportunity to purchase prizes with the "money" they had earned for attendance, timeliness and team work.
"Stay tuned for summer camps," Bushnell said.
The Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center offers programs, activities and missions for all age groups ranging from preschoolers to senior citizens. More information can be found by visiting www.drclc.org.