Featured Journal Article

Polaris program provides career previews

Innovative summer camp enriches students, serves as a marketing tool

by Gary Motz, OSBA editorial manager 

Most kids were savoring their first days of summer vacation in early June. But at Polaris Career Center, more than 200 youngsters were heading back to school for the sixth annual Camp Discovery.

Billed as a way to “supercharge your summer,” the innovative program at the Cuyahoga County career-tech campus offers students four days of career exploration and enrichment. Polaris instructors and several outside professionals led classes in topics ranging from aviation, automotive technology, electrical engineering and carpentry to law enforcement, culinary arts, robotics and more. In many classes, Polaris juniors and seniors assisted the instructors.

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The camp is open to students entering grades seven through 10. Tuition is $50 per class, and students can attend one morning class, one afternoon class or one of each. Attendance has grown each year since the program started.

“Camp Discovery offers many benefits,” said Jan Belz, coordinator of community partnerships. “As a former career development coordinator, I’m always thinking about how students can make good, informed decisions about possible careers.

“Some students know what they want to do in the fourth grade; others don’t know until they’re in college. By providing this program in the summer, it gives them a little snapshot of careers, a chance to see what they might like or not like.”

In addition to giving students a sneak peek at career options, Camp Discovery serves as a recruiting tool for the school. Kids become comfortable in the building and get to know the teachers.

“It benefits Polaris because it provides an awareness of our school, an awareness of our programs,” Belz said. “In that way, it’s a marketing effort for the career center.”

“We’ve found that a lot of students who take these summer classes end up being our students here at Polaris,” said Career Specialist Debby Kennedy. “It’s a good lead-in for them. It lets them get their feet wet and get a feel for the school and meet the instructors.”

Ed Yager teaches Explore the World of Trons, a beginning electronics class. His students learned the basics of electricity by building telegraphs and electric motors. Yager also teaches a class on robotics. Prior to becoming a Polaris teacher he was an electrical engineer with LTV Steel.

“Both of my Camp Discovery classes are STEM oriented — science, technology, engineering and math,” Yager said. “We use hands-on learning. We want to engage them, as well as do some career exploration, and we want them to have fun while doing it.

“We start with the basics of electricity and go from there all the way to robotics. So we’re teaching electronics, controls, sensors, programming. It’s all about how to solve problems.”

One of Yager’s students was Noah Broski, an eighth-grader at Olmsted Falls City. This was Noah’s second year at Camp Discovery. The robotics students built small Lego vehicles and programmed them to negotiate tabletop courses.

“My favorite part about working with the robotics is the programming, because it requires a lot of mental visualizing,” he said during a break from class. “You have to visualize things from different angles. It also helps you with math, because you have to figure out the programming grid to set the sensors. If it doesn’t work right, you have to reprogram it.”

In Mini Police Academy, students learned the requirements to become a police officer and participated in law enforcement training activities. Under the guidance of Polaris Criminal Justice Instructor Jeff Traine, they tried their hand at unarmed self-defense, traffic control, clocking speeders with radar and radio protocol.

Taking law enforcement into the investigative realm is what instructor Stacey Wisniewski, a former science teacher, does in her CSI: Crime Scene Investigators class. The focus in CSI is on forensics, and students investigated several “crime scenes” in a wooded area adjacent to the school.

They examined plaster casts of footprints made the day before, observed simulated blood splatter patterns created with “blood balloons” and monitored a large piece of raw chicken that had been tied to a tree two days earlier.

“The flies are swarming all over the chicken, but there’s no maggots!” one boy shouted across the woods during the outside session.

“Look inside it,” Wisniewski yelled back, but no one seemed interested in delving deeper into the decaying bird.

Standing next to the fly-infested chicken, North Olmsted City student Nathan Mulgrew explained the experiment.

“Insects are a key part in investigating a crime scene,” Mulgrew said. “Flies and insects and maggots can help detectives see how long a body has been there.”

Strongsville City eighth-grader Krissy Pack said she was drawn to the CSI class by her love of forensics shows on TV. Her favorite is “NCIS.”

“We’ve been talking a lot about forensics and about how real-life crime investigations are different from the TV shows,” Pack said. “We’ve also been learning about fingerprints and how to do footprint castings.

“I like science. I really like the logic behind it.”

The automotive technology class, Start Your Engine, is taught by 29-year Polaris veteran Bob Yuravak. Again, the curriculum is basic, but the learning is hands-on and engaging.

“Besides helping them understand our industry a little better, I also teach them things that they’ll take home,” Yuravak said. “For example, how do you check the oil in your parents’ car? How do you check the air pressure in their tires? How do you know when the tires need to be rotated? I also teach them to look for hidden body damage, which can help them when they go to buy a car.

“Camp Discovery is a great chance for kids to experience industries that they might never have had contact with. It gives them an introduction to careers and a better idea about them.”

In Rod Munn’s Cleared for Takeoff class, students study the principles of flight, aerodynamics and navigation, and take turns “piloting” planes on flight simulators.

“Once they understand the principles, they get hands-on experience with flight simulators, and they find out it’s quite another thing to apply those principles,” said Munn, founder of the consulting firm Aerospace Enterprises Inc. “They have to figure out why the aircraft is flying or why it is not flying. How do we navigate from one point to another when we can’t see where we are?

“They’re getting very good exposure on all of the key instruments in virtually every airplane. They’ve learned about all the instruments necessary to help them navigate and fly.”

Other Camp Discovery classes include:

   •  Anatomy Academy — a course covering very basic nursing practices;

   •  Babysitter Boot Camp — focusing on essential child care skills;

   •  Create, Color and Animate — an art and design class using computer software;

   •  Kitchen Creations — students prepare tasty treats to share and take home;

   •  Jewelry Junction — students design and make several types of jewelry;

   •  Mini Makeover — a cosmetics and hair-styling course;

   •  Tool Time — a basic carpentry course using hand and power tools.

The students had nothing but good things to say about Camp Discovery and Polaris Career Center.

“This camp is a great head start on thinking about a career,” said CSI student Mulgrew. “I would recommend it to anybody. I’m hoping to attend here when I’m in high school.”

His fellow CSI student Pack was just as enthused.

“This has made me think about attending Polaris,” she said. “Everyone is very nice here and I like that in a school. It’s been really fun.”

Kitchen Creations student Olivia Bongiovanni was marking her second year at the camp. She attends middle school at Olmsted Falls City.

“I enjoy getting to be creative and actually have freedom to work in the kitchen, put food together and see your creation,” Bongiovanni said. “I want to come back next year to Camp Discovery and attend Polaris later.”

The instructors were no less enthusiastic about the summer camp.

“I like seeing the excitement in the kids faces when they come back for another year,” automotive instructor Yuravak said. “And some of them enroll for my program here when they’re 16. They’ll come back and say, ‘I was in your summer program, do you remember me?’ It’s very rewarding.

“One of the young men who took my summer program came back to attend Polaris, finished my high school program and took sixth in the U.S. in an automotive competition. That was really rewarding.”

“We want to help kids discover Polaris, to discover our careers, to discover science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” electronics instructor Yager said. “Students get quite engaged when they see what we’re doing. Many of the students who go through summer camp end up coming to Polaris, either through my program or other programs. They know the instructors, they know the school and we just start right up.”

“My experience here at Camp Discovery has been great,” said Munn, the aviation instructor. “They are a really bright bunch of guys and girls, so it’s fascinating. In many ways, they are going to help us in the future, so it’s very important they get exposure to coming technologies.”

Editor’s notes

• Districts interested in learning more about Camp Discovery are invited to contact Jan Belz at jbelz@polaris.edu or (440) 891-7618, or Debby Kennedy at dkennedy@polaris.edu or (440) 891-7717.

• A video from OSBA’s June visit to Camp Discovery is posted at www.ohioschoolboards.org/polaris-video.