Summer Dreamers Strive for Success at Camp South Hills

By Russell Finelsen – 10th Grade, Bethel Park High School

Nestled in a hill off Crane Avenue is South Hills Middle School. You might think the school would be empty during the summer, but inside the halls bustle with activity from the Summer Dreamers.

“[The Summer Dreamers Academy] is a summer learning camp serving Pittsburgh Public Schools students who have completed Kindergarten to 7th grade,” said Christine Cray, the Director of Student Services.

Started in 2010, Summer Dreamers has expanded to three locations in the city: South Hills, Faison (Helen S. Faison Arts Academy, Tioga Street), and Langley (Pittsburgh Langley K-8, Sheraden Boulevard). Along with its new locations, the scope of the program has expanded significantly.

Approximately 1,200 students total participate in the five-week long Summer Dreamers program.

Cray explained, “[During the camp], we offer a mix of morning academic classes in reading and math, along with afternoon enrichment activities ranging from fencing and swimming to line dancing, improv comedy, and arts.”

While activities are considered enrichment, the academic portion of the camp prepares the student for the upcoming school year.  Every morning, students learn math and reading for 90 minutes each.  In addition, they visit book fairs and meet members of the Carnegie Library Teen Summer Reading program.

The afternoon consists of two enrichment sessions, each for 90 minutes. Students can choose one or two activities sponsored by different organizations around Pittsburgh, which range from cooking to running.

All students are divided into groups based on grade level.  In addition, each group is distinguished by a mobile app or game. For example, the 5th graders are part of the Instagram program, while a 4th graders are called the Temple Run group.

Students consult with Mrs. Maben on how to plot the points on their graphs.

Students consult with their teacher, Bridget Maben, on plotting points on a graph

On July 27, I spent the day with the 5th grade group. At 8:30 am sharp, the students began their math lesson under the direction of Bridget Maben, who taught simple, mental math and plotting points on a graph.

After a small break for fruit snacks, the group began their English lesson.  They read Pearl Harbor is Burning, a book which focused on two friends, one American and the other Japanese-American, during World War II.

Maben discussed the core lessons from the book with her students. “If a person is prepared for disaster, they feel better about it,” Maben said. She also said that it is important for friends to share experiences of fright, so they can help each other and learn. To practice reading comprehension, each student answered questions pertaining to the book in their journals.

The group goes over "Pearl Harbor is Burning" with Maben.

The group reads Pearl Harbor is Burning

After recess and lunch, students divided up for their respective activities. In one classroom, students learned the fundamentals of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) from Club Science!, sponsored by the Carnegie Science Center.

In another room down the hall, students participated in the Make It! session. Sponsored by Assemble, the session taught students how to build battle-bots for a robot battle which would take place later in camp. The robots included wheels and a motor for movement, as well as a “person” inside.


Kienna’s group’s battle-bot, which is engineered like a shark

One group’s robot was engineered like a shark. Kienna, a member of the group, explained that the front of the robot had shark ‘”teeth” to attack competitors. She also said that her group put a motor in the middle of the shark’s cardboard body to make it move.

“Cardboard is very sturdy, and is great for a battle-bot,” said Mr. Edwin, the instructor of the session.

Although many students used cardboard to construct their robots’ bodies, it was common to see ordinary objects, like spoons, used as attack mechanisms.

The session helped students dive into their creative side while learning more about science and technology.

The exhilarating day ended at 4:00 pm, but everyone was excited to return tomorrow.




Russell Finelsen 2

Russell Finelsen is a rising sophomore at Bethel Park High School. He is the editor-in-chief of his school’s newspaper, Hawk Eye, where he has written over 150 articles and is a member of the Quill and Scroll Society for Student Journalists. He enjoys reading, travelling, and watching sports.

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