Local youth attend EAC summer STEM camp at Tonto Creek

EAC Photo: EAC summer STEM camp attendees gather at the Tonto Natural Bridge.

By Phil McBride/EAC

TONTO CREEK – Eastern Arizona College, with funding from the Rural Activation and Innovation Network through the National Science Foundation and United Way, partnered with the Eastern Arizona Science Initiative to host the seventh annual STEM Camp at Tonto Creek. Forty-six excited seventh – 10th graders from the communities of Bylas, Duncan, Mesa, Safford, Thatcher, Pima, Fort Thomas, and Queen Creek departed from the Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park on Tuesday, May 31 for a four-day, three-night adventure.

Arriving at Camp Tonto Creek, the students were divided into four groups. During the week each group rotated through eight daytime and four evening activities. In a class called stream and pond ecology taught by Ethan McBride, students took water samples from a pond, a stream, and a spring. They tested pH, temperature, turbidity, and conductivity. Students learned the fundamentals of archery from Paul Anger with an emphasis on safety and self-discipline. They learned trust, commitment, perseverance, and teamwork in a low ropes course taught by Lewis Booth. Participants learned about the characteristics of crayfish while catching and releasing these incredibly diverse creatures. Tawnie Anger led the participants in STEAM machine, where they designed and built their own contraptions designed with at least three transitions culminating in the popping of a balloon.

EAC Photo: Ethan McBride instructs campers in ecology during the EAC summer STEM camp at Tonto Creek.

One of the highlights of the week was a short hike to Tonto Creek for swimming and moss wars instigated by Paul Anger. A Knockerball tournament organized by Lewis Booth showcased campers competing for the privilege of facing off against the reigning champion, Ethan McBride. Aiden Ybarra, male champion, and Lila Millar, female champion, attempted to take down Ethan in a joint effort, but to no avail. Ethan retained his crown.

Each evening the participants rotated through four STEM activities including astronomy taught by Paul Anger, ice cream chemistry taught by Becky Booth, aluminum foil boats taught by Tawnie Anger, and water wars taught by Phil and Paula McBride.

Thursday afternoon was spent at what is believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world, the Tonto Natural Bridge, which stands 183 feet high over a 400-foot-long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point. The kids enjoyed an afternoon hike to the bottom of the natural bridge and spent time cooling off in the water pools.

On the last evening, all campers joined together for skits, music, and cheers. Campers were recognized for achievements Friday morning after breakfast. Aiden Ybarra was the male Knockerball champion and Lila Millar was the female champion. Mackenzie Millar won the archery competition with a score of 14 with three arrows. Aiden Ybarra was the male archery champion. Max Taylor, Camden Bryce, and Cort Konrath had the most creative, functional STEAM Machine. Hope Perez, Kimber Taylor, Ada Green, and Caddy Bigler were the most successful at launching and catching foam bullets propelled out of a volumetric flask through the chemical reaction created by water and the ingredients in Alka Seltzer.

Camp staff included Lewis and Becky Booth, from Duncan, Ethan McBride, from Safford, Phil and Paula McBride, from Thatcher, Heather Dillman, from Fort Thomas, and Paul and Tawnie Anger, from Pima. These individuals taught most of the activities throughout the week.  It was great to see the participants make new friends, overcome challenges, and work together in teams while learning about science, technology, engineering, and math.

For further information about STEM education opportunities in your area, contact Phil McBride, dean of instruction at Eastern Arizona College (928-428-4804), or Paul Anger, director of the Eastern Arizona College Discovery Park (928-428-6260).