Merit badges step into the 21st century at Rockwood camp

Merit badges step into the 21st century at Rockwood Boy Scout camp

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Welding is one of the newest badges available. Welding is one of the newest badges available.
A counselor helps scouts operate robots. A counselor helps scouts operate robots.
"When you look at today's world, engineering and science is all around us. It's important that we get kids involved," said counselor Michael Haines. "When you look at today's world, engineering and science is all around us. It's important that we get kids involved," said counselor Michael Haines.
Philip Webb's school recently got rid of its shop program, so the scouts is his only access to this type of education. Philip Webb's school recently got rid of its shop program, so the scouts is his only access to this type of education.
Scouts experiment with string. Scouts experiment with string.

By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

ROCKWOOD (WATE) - Summer is the time when lots of kids go away to camp.

For boys involved in scouting, their summer camp activities often center around earning merit badges, including traditional badges like swimming, boating, or repelling.

But the Great Smoky Mountain Council has added some non-traditional badges to their camp this summer.

Your dad or granddad probably didn't earn a badge in welding. He probably didn't fire off a rocket either, or get to build and operate robots, for that matter.

But scouts are doing all this and more at Camp Buck Toms this summer as they explore and learn about science, technology, engineering, and math or STEM fields.

"It teaches you something you normally would not get a chance to learn on your own," said scout Phoenix Johnson.

"They got rid of the shop program," Philip Webb said of his school.

"STEM has been a big success and it's very positive. Our volunteers are excited about it and the boys seem to enjoy taking these merit badges," said camp director Chris Agee.
   
The robotics merit badge is especially popular as the boys learn how science education can be exciting.

"Building these robots was really cool, just figuring out how all this stuff works," said boy scout Nate Empey.

"The goal for this is to get scouts interested in engineering and robotics, in a field that is quickly growing," said counselor Michael Haines. "When you look at today's world, engineering and science is all around us. It's important that we get kids involved in it."

Some of the STEM merit badges offered this summer include chemistry, composite materials, energy, radio and electronics, environmental science, archaeology, geology, and automotive maintenance, just to name a few.

In Spencer Siefke's nuclear science class, kids are learning how the world works.

Some of the boys may not become scientists or engineers, but just becoming an educated citizen is part of the process for STEM education.

"I think it is a really good thing for scouts to have a diverse array of classes such as nuclear science, composite materials and chemistry," Siefke said, "It will help later in life."

In early July of last year, Oak Ridge National Lab Director Thom Mason toured the camp and met with scouts and presented a $20,000 gift to the council's executive to help fund STEM-related merit badges.  

While Camp Buck Tom continues to offer several dozen traditional boy scout merit badges that develop and test skills of teenage boys, the new emphasis on exploring STEM-related subjects at camp is bound to reap rewards.

"They'll get a touch of it in school, but we try to give them a different aspect of it. Because here you are in the woods, you are in nature, you get to see and learn how it actually does happen. It is not just a picture in a textbook," counselor John Higdon said.

The idea of the STEM program is if you capture their interests early, then that helps these kids want to learn more and chase that dream ignited by a newfound interest.

Approximately 2,500 boys will have attended Camp Buck Toms by the time it ends this summer.

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