January 18, 2019

6 Points Sci-Tech Academy combines science, shabbos

The traditional Jewish summer camp experience isn’t for every kid. While some children thrive on outdoor activities, athletics, and arts and crafts, others have specialized interests that don’t often show up in the program of a typical sleep-away camp. 

That’s the conclusion the Golland family of L.A.’s Larchmont neighborhood arrived at after sending their son, Asher, to generalized Jewish and non-Jewish camps for the past few summers. Now 13 years old, Asher has a passion for science and computers, his mother, Michelle Golland, said. But there was little to pique his interest in the sports-centered camps they found for him in California.

So, this summer, the Gollands — members of Temple Israel of Hollywood — are betting on a different experience for their son. They’ve signed him up for 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, the new science and technology camp being launched this year by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). 

The camp, open to students entering grades five through nine, provides children with hands-on scientific learning in fields such as robotics and digital media. It’s also on the other side of the country — in Byfield, Mass., just outside of Boston — but the Gollands say they believe it’s perfect for Asher. They hope it will give him not only the opportunity to learn more about science and meet like-minded kids, but also become immersed in Jewish traditions.

“I found [the camp] on Facebook. Somebody posted it on my wall because they knew our son was a big gamer, robot and chess guy. As soon as I started reading it, I just found it to be exactly something Asher would be into,” Michelle Golland said. “He’ll be with a bunch of kids that are very similar, with similar interests, which we feel is going to be really wonderful for him.” 

Greg Kellner, camp director, said the URJ’s new camp is generating a great deal of interest from parents, including some in California. Although science-focused summer camps are nothing new, this camp is the first to combine both science and Judaism, he said. 

“We felt that was a niche we could really fill,” said Kellner, an audio engineer whose previous positions include running a music program at Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps in Malibu and serving as senior assistant director of the URJ Crane Lake Camp in Massachusetts. “Parents, when they call me, they say: ‘Wow, this is perfect. This is exactly what we were looking for.’ ” 

The cost of the two-week camp is $2,850. Discounts are available to first-time campers.

The 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy (scitech.urjcamps.org) is one of four camps that make up the second cohort of the Specialty Camps Incubator, a program of the Foundation for  Jewish Camp that launches new camps in order to encourage more children to attend Jewish camp by providing specialty options. The other camps focus on business and entrepreneurship, sports, and health and wellness. The initiative is funded by an $8.6 million grant jointly provided by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Avi Chai Foundation. 

The specialty nature of the camp is one reason Kellner expects 6 Points to be successful. Another is its relatively short duration, which may make some children more comfortable with it, Kellner explained. The camp is just two weeks long — there will be three sessions held throughout the summer. Between 50 and 70 children from across the country are expected to attend each camp, Kellner said.

Children attending the Sci-Tech Academy focus on one of four specialty areas while at camp: environmental science, digital media, robotics and video game design. Each day, the campers will spend two and a half hours working as a group on a project in their chosen field. For the remainder of the day, they’ll learn about other applications of science, such as catapult building or flight technology, Kellner said. All of the camp counselors have a science and technology background.

Jewish learning at the camp is values-based, Kellner explained. Rabbis, cantors and educators will work with the children to share their knowledge of both science and Judaism. These could include initiating ethics discussions, such as the implications of creating a violent video game. Campers will also sing Hebrew songs in the morning and before bedtime, and celebrate Shabbat.

“The most important thing is they will really leave … being more self-confident of their Jewish identity and knowing that Judaism and science are not exclusive of one another, that I can live a life where I love Judaism and science,” he said.