Since 2019, Camp Discovery has utilized NASA’s GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) program, bringing authentic citizen science investigations to thousands of children. Today, Camp Discovery is the lead site for NASA GLOBE Goes to Camp. It serves 60 Richland School District Two students and families with NASA DISCOVERIES, a nature-based STEM enrichment project, where fourth and fifth graders are involved in earth science investigations using science process, technology, engineering, and math skills over a two-year academic period and including a week of summer camp programming. Community career mentors, NASA subject matter experts, and local business partners help Camp Discovery to provide wrap-around support to NASA DISCOVERIES students and families.
At a recent Blythewood Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Camp Discovery executive director Amy Ellisor made the announcement that this program has tripled its reach from last year’s pilot program by adding students from two more schools and an additional grade level to the NASA DISCOVERIES project.
“The fourth graders from last year will be returning as fifth graders, and we are bringing in two additional groups of fourth graders,” said Ellisor. “The last time we were in front of you we were starting a dream. We were doing a pilot with 20 kids. Well, now we are in deep REM sleep, 90 miles an hour and so tickled to tell you we are going to expand to 60 students and families for this school year.”
Twenty fourth graders from Bethel-Hanberry and Langford Elementary Schools will continue in NASA DISCOVERIES as fifth graders this fall, and 20 new fourth graders will be added to the project. Twenty fourth grade students from Bridge Creek and Rice Creek Elementary schools will join the project as well.
As a nonprofit organization, Camp Discovery depends on donations and grants for programs such as NASA DISCOVERIES. Two Blythewood companies, Spirax Sarco and Charter Next Generation, are industry partners with Camp Discovery, each funding a group of 20 students.
Richland County Conservation Commission’s (RCCC) Natural Resources Grant is funding an additional group of 20 students and instructional materials. RCCC also supports the program through annual grants which open every year to applicants in December. For more information, visit www.richlandlegacy.com.
Community sponsors include Dominion Energy, Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union, Richland School District Two, and State Farm Insurance. They provide either in-kind services, direct support, or grants toward NASA DISCOVERIES. Community support is vital to the ongoing success and further expansion of this project.
During the July 27 NASA DISCOVERIES launch event, students, teachers, principals, and parents attended an orientation session, picked up backpacks with citizen science tools, and enjoyed ice cream. Several attendees took the time to explain what NASA DISCOVERIES means to them.
Maria Owens, who is the director of strategic partnerships for Richland School District Two, said she was “really excited about expanding the program, not only for the returning students from the original schools but adding students from two new schools. The authentic and meaningful learning is something you can’t duplicate.” Owens said she was thrilled more kids can have the experience of not only NASA but being outdoors in a classroom and learning in nature. She added, “We really appreciate the community partnership that allows this to happen. Largely, this would not be possible if we did not have community partners.”
Having participated in the pilot during the 2022-2023 school year, Kaseema Jackson, principal at Langford Elementary, was asked for her impressions of NASA DISCOVERIES. She said, “Number one, it gives students who normally don’t shine in the classroom an opportunity to shine outside that classroom. I’ve seen students who were very shy just blossom doing things that are truly going to be helpful to our Blythewood community. The excitement was really great, especially when they came back to the classroom and shared that excitement with other students. I can see them learning and being more excited about things centered around science and research, even centered around writing.”
Jackson also said, “This program is for all students—not just students who are super bright, not just students who are struggling. This is an inclusive program for all students. You can participate and be successful. This program helps to create student leaders inside and outside the classroom. They are learning academics, but they also have to learn to work together, be collaborative, and show teamwork. I wish we could extend this so even more students could have an opportunity to participate in the program.”
Stacy Zook, parent of one of Rice Creek Elementary’s new participants in the project, is looking forward to what the project’s possibilities are. She said, “My daughter really enjoys science and being able to do extra stuff. That would be fun.”
Nikki Gilmore, a curriculum specialist at Rice Creek Elementary, said, “We definitely want our children to explore and be able to discover things on their own—hands on, in the trenches.”
To become part of NASA DISCOVERIES as a career speaker and/or an industry or community partner, visit www.campdiscoverysc.org.