Robots, Minecraft, and Shabbat
The following post is the next in our summer series hearing from the camps that were launched as a result of FJC’s Specialty Camps Incubator.
How does one describe the feeling of opening a new specialty camp? Awe inspiring, and an amazing challenge. I came into the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy with ideas, a framework, and a mission: to instill Jewish identity through science and technology. Over the last year, while fleshing out those ideas and expanding that framework, I still had only an inkling of what an incredible place this camp would become.
Sci-Tech is a specialty camp; similarly to our sister camp, URJ 6 Points Sports Academy, we offer dedicated periods of time to specific activities where our campers can learn about a subject in which they are passionate. In our case, those activities are robotics, digital media production, environmental science, and video game design. These workshops are supported by a variety of chugim (electives) taught by our stellar staff with backgrounds in programming, chemistry, and virology (just to name a few), who teach their subjects at a level very approachable by 5th-9th graders, but much more intellectually complex than I ever expected. Surrounding the workshops and chugim are camp’s core Jewish values—curiosity, discovery, respect, and connection—and a Jewish camp framework—morning blessings, song session, and Shabbat.
We’re creating an environment for a group of campers who might have never experienced a Jewish camp if it weren’t for the science and technology. Our goal has been to meld in-depth science and technology learning provided by our workshops with a campy and fun feel that only song sessions and cabin bonding can offer. In daily song sessions, campers look forward to singing “Why Does the Sun Shine,” an informational, yet energetic song by They Might Be Giants, followed by “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” At breakfast, a staff member examines a great Jewish scientist or innovator before we join together in Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) full of ruach (spirit).
‘Only at Sci-Tech’ is a phrase that many of our Faculty have used to describe the environment here at camp. In my opinion, only at Sci-Tech can our campers find friends and build relationships with other campers who feel and act just like them. Campers are incredibly driven and enveloped in their projects and experiments at camp, but share these passions, and work, with other campers. All of our workshops have campers working in groups to accomplish things like building a Rube Goldberg Machine or developing a new video game. When there are activities that are independently driven, campers are working together towards a common goal or on a single project; for example, campers in our Virtual World chug work together on their own computers while physically in the same room to re-creating buildings and structures in camp using Minecraft. The amount of productive discussion and friendly cooperation that campers exhibit here at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy is simply astonishing.
Thankfully, after an intense week of creativity and innovation, camp has the privilege of celebrating Shabbat. We take time to reflect on our amazing accomplishments from the past week—filming a movie, building a robot, making a fossil, etc.—and infuse our core beliefs into the learning and fun we have had. We are only just under two sessions into the existence of camp, and I know that the experience we are providing here is opening up children’s eyes to the Jewish and scientific & technological worlds.