January 17, 2019

Science and technology camp coming to California

Parents who want their kids to have a Jewish camp experience but also a summer of science learning soon won’t have to choose between the two.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is planning a science and technology camp in California, the Union’s first such camp on the West Coast. The 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy is set to open in the summer of 2018 at a site to be determined, with organizers expecting several hundred campers in fifth through 11th grades for two-week overnight sessions.

The camp will be modeled after URJ’s science and technology camp in the Boston area, which began in 2014 and now attracts about 500 students each year. Campers explore a variety of scientific fields, such as robotics, video game design, computer programming, forensics and environmental science, all within the context of Jewish practices and values. Each student picks an area of study, along with two electives, each week.

The West Coast camp is being funded by grants from the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Jim Joseph and Avi Chai foundations.

“We’re so excited to be able to bring this to California,” said Miriam Chilton, the URJ’s vice president for youth initiatives. “We think it will be a really powerful fit for the Jewish community.”

The URJ is exploring locations in both Southern and Northern California, Chilton said. Once a site is found, the plan is to design a camp curriculum that draws on the expertise and industries in the surrounding area: animation and film in Southern California, for example, or computer technology if located closer to Silicon Valley, according to Chilton.

“We’re still looking for the perfect location,” she said. “We’re searching for an environment where the camp can feel very intimate, where [the campers] have freedom of movement, where the facilities are top-grade, and where they can experience both the advantages of technology equipment and labs but have a wonderful outdoor space.”

Chilton said the URJ expects to have a site for the camp identified by March.

Jordanna Flores, a former assistant director of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Education, Los Angeles campus, is serving as director of the West Coast camp. She has a wealth of experience leading educational and youth programs.

Flores said she hopes the science camp will appeal to kids who might not be interested in traditional Jewish summer camp.

“The idea of specialty camp is that we can reach kids who just wouldn’t find enough stimulation at a general camp and reach them through the specific thing that gets them excited and shows them how that thing can intersect with their Judaism,” she said. “A kid who loves robotics or designing video games can do it through a Jewish lens and see how those things can be Jewish.”

A goal of the camp is to bring in scientific experts — particularly Jewish ones — to talk with kids about cutting-edge research and take campers on field trips to see science at work, Flores said.

Campers will gain not only new scientific knowledge but also an understanding of how science and technology relate to the Jewish faith and people, Flores said. She cited examples such as how astronomy ties into the Jewish calendar and how biotechnology innovation in Israel prevents tomatoes from going bad during shipping.

“Education and creativity and approaching problems in a different way is part of our Jewish history, it’s part of our Jewish culture,” Flores said. “The way that the State of Israel was founded and all of the technological innovations coming out of Israel, it’s a very [Jewish] thing to approach something in an innovative way.”

A science camp in Southern California would be URJ’s second in the area, operating in the style of 6 Points Sports Academy on the campus of Occidental College, and its seventh speciality camp overall. The per-camper cost for the California Sci-Tech Academy is projected to be similar to the $3,100 cost of the sports camp, Flores said. Scholarships also will be made available, she said.

Chilton said she hopes students who attend the science camp will leave with “a sense of curiosity to want to continue to learn, and also very much a sense of pure joy. An understanding of how they themselves fit into the larger world, not only in terms of
the skill acquisition … but also how those skills help build out a strong and vibrant community.”

For more information about the URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in California, visit 6pointsscitech.org/california.