‘Not in summer school’: Some Prince George’s students learn coding, how to fly drone during county program

Students participate in STAMP Camp at Adelphi’s Mary Harris “Mother” Jones Elementary School. (WTOP/John Domen)

Anyone coming through the hallways of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones Elementary School in Adelphi, Maryland, had to keep their heads up, looking up toward the ceiling, because you never knew when a drone might drop down on you.

Over the last four weeks, hundreds of kids have been coming to the school, as well as three other schools around Prince George’s County, to participate in STAMP Camp. STAMP stands for Science, Technology, Aerospace and Math Program.

“This camp was specifically designed with aerospace and aviation in mind,” said Dr. Terri Jefferson, an instructional technology specialist in Prince George’s County Public Schools’ Title I Department.

Jefferson helped design these camps in a partnership with NASA. On the final day, kids flew drones, used pool noodles to play a sport, and designed robots to sumo wrestle — but as much as the kids learned, it seemed like they were mostly just having fun.

“We purposefully did not want this to feel like summer school,” said Jefferson. “You’re not in summer school. This is an enrichment program where they had fun.”

Some Prince George’s students learn coding, how to fly drone during county program

The program at the Adelphi school drew students from all over the northern part of the county. Similar camps are being held in four other parts of the county, too, providing transportation and meals for the kids, since they come from Title I, or low income, areas.

“We were asked to put together a camp that you would want your own child to go to,” said Jefferson.

“I’ve learned about coding, I’ve learned how to fly a drone, all that good stuff,” said Ethan McDonald of Laurel. Asked how much fun the program was, he said on a scale of one to 10, it was an 11.

“Every single Friday, we do Space Olympics, and a Space Olympics is like, we do games, and the winner gets a prize,” said Madison Romero of Hyattsville. She won a drone competition.

“For the drones, we do tricks,” she explained. “One of them, you have to do a flip. The other one is like, drop the drone and it breaks apart. The drones are breakable so they’re easy to build back,” she reassured.

She went on describing how she coded her robots to make facial expressions, as if it was something any soon-to-be fifth grader can do.

Denise China-Johnson, who was a co-coordinator of the program at Mother Jones, said she’s seen tremendous growth in these kids over the last four weeks.

“Kids who are shy day one, don’t want to speak, they become leaders, they become the program managers,” she explained.

Kids are learning more than they think while they’re having all that fun.

“They learn perseverance, something that they are not particularly high skilled at, being able to meet a challenge successfully, and then keep redesigning,” China-Johnson said.

And it’s been happening every day.

“Not only are they learning it, but a lot of the teachers are saying, ‘I’m going to bring some of these elements to my classroom this year,'” said Jefferson. “This is great and if you can look at the faces of the teachers, I kind of wonder who’s having more fun here.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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