DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Jeff Epps hopes the children who attended the S.W.E.L.L. Mathletics Camp camp this week will retain what they learned and carry that knowledge into the classroom during the next school year.
Epps, who has been running STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camps in Richmond County for a decade, just wrapped up a free camp — a partnership between Epps’ Stemerald City and Denise Cozart’s mental health company Asha B’s Closet — Thursday, focusing on using sports activities to improve math skills.
“We’ve evolved from just exposing children to technology during the summer to figuring out ‘How do we raise their achievement in the classroom … (and) prepare them to enroll in college before they graduate high school?’” he said.
A lot of students, he added, are getting burned out by the time they graduate high school.
“But if we can get them enrolled on a college campus before they graduate … we can ensure that they are prepared to enroll in the Early College High School … we can have them dual enrolled … or we can hold summer camps that bring them on to the college campus,” Epps said.
Epps said research showed that math was a “stumbling block” for a lot of students. Many of those, he added, were athletes.
The reason: they are more visual, or spatial, learners.
Also, those performing low in math have a lack of understanding of fractions and decimal placement, he said.
Instead of using teachers as the math coaches for the camp – letting them enjoy their summer break – Epps enlisted the help of four former STEM camp students.
“I said, ‘I know they would be great’ because all those years of torture – that they would call it – what I was doing was teaching them how to think,” he said. “Sure I was teaching them coding and 3-D modeling and all of that, but that was just the lure.
“That’s where the payoff comes for this camp is that they have instructors that know how to solve problems and think quickly,” he added, snapping his fingers.
Epps said they gave the coaches the autonomy to change up activities how they wanted – “and they took that and ran with it.”
When it came to the games, Carlos Toomer said he was just following Epps’ past camp instructions to “think outside of the box.”
Joel Dunn and Anna Jasper are both still in high school, not much older than some of the students they were helping.
Mekayla Brown, now a junior computer science major at UNC-Chapel Hill, has more than 800 STEM contact hours, according to Epps.
She was popular among the kids, based on the feedback forms.
“The first couple of days I (worked on) addition, subtraction … getting them used to the number line, where the negatives are, positives are” she said. “So that way when they go back to school and they learn stuff, they’ll be like, ‘OK, I get it.’”
On Thursday, Brown said she motivated them to learn fractions by offering Skittles for correct answers.
“We complement each other,” said Toomer, who studied business informatics at Richmond Community College. “Each one of us brings something different, each one of us is unique.”
The four-day camp at the Dobbins Heights Community Center started off with a 35-student cap, but Cozart said she allowed a few walk-ins, raising the attendance to 48.
Epps and Cozart both praised the financial support from Danny Hayes at House of Fish in Aberdeen, Doc Hill’s Family Care Home and other donors, as well as cooperation from Mayor Antonio Blue, Councilwoman Angeline David and the rest of the Dobbins Heights Town Council.
The camp had visits from educators in Hope Mills and the mayor of Fairmont, who are interested in bringing similar camps in their areas, Epps said.
A drone camp is scheduled in Dobbins Heights for mid-July.