Summer camps at ASU offer academic challenges, fun, sports for K-12

Monday, March 26, 2018

While summer is a time for teenagers to relax and have some fun, it's also a great chance to get a leg up on their education. Several enrichment programs at Arizona State University will offer high-level learning that can prepare them for college. 

Every summer, ASU hosts dozens of summer camps for young people ranging from toddlers to high schoolers that provide activities in the arts, sports and math and science. Some are just for fun, like Sun Devil Kids Camp. Others, like the 7Up Robotics Camp and the Young Adult Writing Program, offer unique and academically challenging experiences. The Summer Design Primer and the Digital Culture Summer Institute will introduce middle and high school students to careers in architecture, three-dimensional design and game making.

ASU also offers the only STARTALK programs in Arizona — prestigious language-immersion courses that are funded by the National Security Agency to encourage the teaching of critical-need languages. Eighth- to 12th-graders can take three weeks of Mandarin in a residential camp at ASU that costs $150, while the three-week day camp that teaches Russian is free.

Competition nationwide to host the STARTALK camps is fierce, and ASU’s Melikian Center is one of only a handful of programs that teaches Russian to high school students in the country. This will be the third year for the camp, while the Mandarin program is in its 10th year on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The goal is for beginners to spend nearly 100 percent of the time speaking in the new language, according to Andrew Gunn, educational outreach specialist for the Melikian Center.

“On the first Monday they’re learning basic vocabulary and grammar, and they are using it on Tuesday,” he said.

Students talk to a Russian family via Skype at an ASU language camp
Students in the 2017 Russian summer camp speak with a family in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, via Skype. Photo courtesy of the Melikian Center

A key component of the course is video interaction with host families who live in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The conversations, entirely in Russian, cover daily life like what the family buys and cooks for meals.

The Russian program is an opportunity for high schoolers to accelerate their college degree, Gunn said. The Critical Languages Institute in the Melikian Center offers summer language programs — including travel abroad — that are open to high school students to earn ASU credit. Conceivably, a 10th-grader who begins with STARTALK and moves onto the Critical Language Institute programs in Russian could begin as a freshman at ASU with up to 26 language credits acquired at a reduced cost, thanks to federal funding. They can even stay with the host families in Bishkek they first met via Skype.

The goal is to create truly proficient speakers, Gunn said.

“And with Mandarin and Russian, that’s extremely hard to do. It does take six or even 10 years,” he said.

Xia Zhang, director of the STARTALK Chinese program and a lecturer who teaches Chinese, said many schools in the Valley teach the language and the ASU camp is a good way for those students to keep their skills sharp. ASU’s is one of only seven residential Chinese STARTALK programs in the country. Class sizes are small, and all of the resident advisers are bilingual in English and Chinese.

Students perform in a showcase at ASU STARTALK Mandarin camp
Students in the 2017 Chinese summer camp present their showcase on the last day of the camp, showing what they learned. Photo courtesy of the STARTALK Chinese camp

The Chinese program is a pathway to a specialized degree via the Flagship program at ASU, which offers scholarships for study in China.

“Students learn not only the language but they also have cultural experiences, take field trips and in the evenings, they get one-on-one tutoring,” she said. “Everything is focused on real-experiences.”

Both Zhang and Gunn said that evaluators visit the camps to gauge how well they’re doing.

“They’re always amazed at how much students can learn in such a short time,” she said.

Learn more about the STARTALK Mandarin program; details on the Russian campsummer-enrichment programs for toddlers and students in K-12 offered by Education Outreach and Student Services at ASU; and sports camps, including lacrosse, swimming, wrestling and golf. 

Top photo: Students in the 2017 Chinese summer camp perform in the showcase on the last day of the camp. Photo courtesy of the STARTALK Chinese camp