Joseph and Erin Lopez knew their son was having a good time at camp when they got a text from him with a photo of a fellow camper holding a human brain.

He took the photo in a session run by the Neuroscience Training Program at UW-Madison during the STEAM Camp at DeForest High School. Gavin Lopez, a ninth-grader at the high school, also got a chance to hold the brain.

“It was really gross. I don’t usually find things gross,” Gavin said. “It was a real brain and it was all slimy and stuff.”

His parents signed him up for the camp, which ended Friday, because they wanted to give him an alternative to video games and keep his mind sharp for the upcoming school year, his dad said.

“We only get texts from Gavin when he is happy and in a good mood and shares with us something he is doing that is cool,” Joseph Lopez said.

The fourth annual STEAM Camp, which was run by DeForest School District staff, covered science, technology, engineering, agriscience and math. Offered to students entering grades six through nine, the camp featured many hands-on activities, such as 3D printing, forensic science and work with programming and circuits, including learning how to create circuits that were then sewn onto fabric.

For each of the first four days, the campers worked on different projects. On the last day, the campers took part in shorter hands-on challenges and listened to different presenters.

“You have so much freedom for what you want to do,” Owen Horton, a freshman at the high school, said about the camp activities.

Freshman Taylor Pharo said she liked the hands-on focus and particularly enjoyed the woodworking project taught by Tyler Tietyen, technology education teacher at the high school, who had the campers make wooden desk calendars.

Nick Strandine and Riley Wittmann, project engineers at EVCO Plastics in DeForest, brought along some products made at their plant and talked about the company and their jobs. They were impressed with the questions students asked, and Wittmann said an aim was to present real-world applications to what the campers are learning.

“Middle-schoolers see younger faces like ours, maybe they can relate,” said Strandine, who just graduated from UW-Stout about 1½ years ago.

Gwen Boettcher, agriculture teacher at the high school who also continues to help on family farms, said she wanted the campers who normally think about the traditional roles of farmer and veterinarian to learn that there are many careers in agriculture.

Bill Jameson, physics and engineering teacher at the high school, had students assemble a four-wheeled robot and learn how to make it go at different speeds. He said he was “trying to make sure we keep the excitement that these young kids have and keep that going into high school.”

Sarah Shagam, coordinator and a teacher at the camp, said it was started to encourage seventh- and eighth-grade girls’ interest in STEAM. The next year, it was opened up to boys and girls, as well as more grades. This year it cost $10, which paid for snacks and T-shirts, and 94 students attended.

Brianna Pettineo, an eighth-grader at DeForest Middle School, said she wasn’t sure she would like the camp when it was suggested by a teacher, even though she likes science and technology.

“It ended up being a lot of fun. So my teacher was right,” she said.

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