Kids of all ages run through Sessom Creek, scanning the crystal clear water for tiny organisms to examine under a microscope. This isn’t part of summer school, but a camp that mixes education and fun in an engaging way.
The Aquatic Science Adventure Camp started in 1988 to educate kids about fresh water science and the waters around San Marcos, created by the Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center.
The camps are broken up into eight weeklong sessions and two two-day sessions, each catering to a different age group, ranging from 9-15. Students stay in dorms and use the labs on campus, with certified teachers leading the groups.
“That first year was a trial run. We only held one session,”said Lendon Gilpin, assistant director for education for the data center. “We had a big turnout and kids were wanting to come again, so we expanded the curriculum and amount of sessions.”
Whether it’s a two-day camp or weeklong over-nighters, the students get fun-filled days while learning about general fresh water science and the aquifer. Students start the day by collecting plankton, testing the local water, or exploring the natural springs on a glass-bottom boat tour.
“Watching the kids run into Sessom Creek with their little nets was always so much fun,” said Catherine Bairley, teacher at Meadows Elementary in Fort Hood. “They were amazed to actually find tiny water organisms that were in a petri dish.”
After an eventful morning the campers have fun swimming, rafting, and other recreational activities, sometimes even venturing to Schlitterbahn and Sea World.
“One day we got to take the kids fishing. One of the girls caught a catfish that was half her size,” said Cliff Sims, teacher at Brookhollow Elementary in Pflugerville. “Most of the kids had never gone fishing, so to see her eyes light up after that catch was a real treat.”
Glipin changes the curriculum and activities every few years, trying new and fun ways to keep the students engaged with the academic side of the camp.
Bairley said Gilpin set up a fish printing activity where students could stamp fish shapes on t-shirts, much like the fish they would see on the excursion.
“It’s rare that you see an academic and social camp combo like this,” Sims said. “Gilpin has found a way to present how essential the aquifer and clean water is for everyone.”
The constant return of students show the camp’s expense is well worth the experience.
“These camps are certainly well worth investing in. The are so many activities for the kids, and Lendon never sounded boring during his presentations,” Bairley said. “There was not one kid who did not enjoy it or want to come back. This really is a great program.”