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Camp Ramah to introduce STEAM program

Campers at Camp Ramah in Canada.

Next summer, the sun will be shining and warm weather will beckon young campers with the allure of hiking, boating, swimming and outdoor sports. Of course, it being 2020, technology can’t be too far away.

Since young minds need to be active too, Camp Ramah in Canada, a summer camp in Utterson, Ont., will be introducing a new specialty track centring on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).

Campers attending Ramah’s second session (July 20-Aug. 13) will have the option of choosing a program that will include robotics, environmental sciences and programming, while incorporating Judaic elements and focusing on Israel.

“We are hoping that this program  opens up the sweetness and power of Jewish summer camp to more of our youth who may not want a more ‘typical’ Jewish camp experience and are drawn to the science/tech side,” said Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, the director of Camp Ramah in Canada.

That doesn’t mean more “screen time,” per se, as “the program is not really screen-based. Very little of it will be in front of a computer or on social media,” Rabbi Bendat-Appell said.

Camp Ramah’s STEAM program will be more hands-on, with an emphasis on robotics, building and designing things related to the physical camp environment, he said.

Under the guidance of experts, some from Israel, campers will be given projects and problems to solve on the camp site. One example cited by Rabbi Bendat-Appell was designing a solar cell that could trigger the release of water in a tank, or power a robot to create a plaque.

That sort of project has the added benefits of employing an interdisciplinary approach, involving robotics and the science of solar energy, and using it to beautify a garden, he said.

It’s the kind of approach to education that is being emphasized more and more  in schools.

“Kids love this kind of thing,” he said. “At camp, we take learning out of the confines of the classroom and bring it alive.”

The program is geared toward youngsters in grades 6 through 8 and will run three hours a day for five days a week – exposing them to more robotics and STEAM content than they would get in school.

“The program will enable campers to develop projects over time,” Rabbi Bendat-Appell said.

No previous knowledge of robotics or STEM subjects is required.

The STEAM program marks something of a departure for Camp Ramah, which traditionally offered a more “holistic approach, with a strong emphasis on integrating Jewish life and experience,” he said.

The STEAM program will expand on that mission by incorporating a spiritual dimension and promote social interaction. It will also draw on the best ideas from Israel, which is well known for its technical innovations.

One of the heads of the program, Yoav Cohen-Rimmer, is a STEM teacher at Netivot HaTorah Day School in Thornhill, Ont., who participates in an exchange program with colleagues in Eilat and Eilot, Israel. Rabbi Bendat-Appell wants to hire Israeli staff from those communities to help lead the STEAM program at Camp Ramah.

The program will also incorporate Judaic elements to ensure campers employ Jewish values and Jewish sources when planning their projects. The ultimate goal is to ensure the projects are dedicated to the betterment of the camp community, Rabbi Bendat-Appell said.

Camp Ramah was founded in 1960 and operates under the educational guidance of the National Ramah Commission and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Each summer, about 600 campers attend the camp, which is located in the Muskoka region, north of Toronto.

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