Category Archives : Academic Achievement

STEM Club Kids Culminate Year with Confidence and Curiosity

When fifth grader Keller Wills showed up for her usual Camp Fire club meeting last fall at Bear Creek Elementary, she didn’t realize her whole outlook on science was about to change.

Part of a grant-funded STEM program partnership with Camp Fire Central Oregon and High Desert Museum, her club had evolved into the Bear Creek STEM Adventure Club, one of four out-of-school programs focused on giving third through fifth grade kids learning experiences in science, technology, engineering and math content.

STEM students from four Bend elementary schools – Juniper, Jewell, Silver Rail and Bear Creek – had a special chance to share and celebrate their successes and year with a culmination evening family dinner at High Desert Museum recently, where they were recognized for their efforts, ideas and projects.

“I liked that we learned new things that we hadn’t learned about. It gave us a big step up for things we were about to learn,” Wills stated confidently–and she should: Wills just learned this spring that she earned the highest score of her class on her state Science test. She attributed her success largely to her STEM club.

“She came home and was really proud of herself,” said Wills’ mother. “She said she didn’t think she would have scored as well without the STEM camps because they didn’t learn that much in school…all of it came from STEM club.”

Keller said engineering was her favorite. “I loved building things with a lot of different materials– like we got to build robots. This was my first time getting to build things with THIS kind of stuff. It actually made me succeed on a science test. Half the things we learned in STEM, were on the test. Now, it feels like I can do it and I’ve advanced in it more.”

“Camp Fire and The High Desert Museum took on this project with hopes to bring creative and challenging opportunities to Central Oregon youth in an after-school setting, said Mary Bowker, Camp Fire Central Oregon Program Director. “We focused on students as doers and designers so they could really bolster their self-confidence in STEM topics. We really tried hard to allow the students freedom to explore their own ideas, find success in their designs, and evaluate their failures.”

Parents agreed that the STEM-focused clubs offered kids a chance to gain confidence both socially and academically.

“I can’t tell you how much this program has helped my family and my kids,” Niko Creane’s father, Sean, shared.

“Our son loves building,” Niko’s mother continued. “He’s super into mechanical stuff, but he struggled with math, and it’s been a huge deterrent to his confidence to enter the career he’s interested in. After being in the STEM program this year, he says without hesitation ‘I’m going to be an engineer.’ and that’s what he’s always wanted to be since he was little. He recently told a woman, ‘I’m going to work for the National Institute for Insurance Safety testing vehicles.’ You hear kids say I want to be a dancer, or an artist, but he has the reality to underpin that goal. He sees what goes into the end product. It’s not just a nebulous dream.”

For Baird Lemmon, a TAG student from Juniper Elementary who sought out the chance to learn more about STEM, it turns out the club offers something else kids need, too.

”I felt nervous for my first day, but since I got along with my group, I kind of felt confident in myself. I was nervous about meeting new people and now I feel connected to them at school.”

Creane’s parents added, “It’s helped our son’s self-esteem. STEM Adventure Club gave Niko an opportunity to be friends with a different, diverse group of people. Plus, this has built his confidence and curiosity – the most sacred thing in childhood.”

“It was really great to watch the kids in this program change their mindset from one of lack of interest in science to one of confidence and identity around science,” said Bowker. “I saw a big shift in how kids view themselves and their abilities around their ability to design and build, and the creative process in general of science, technology, engineering and math.”

This year’s program was driven by a grant funded by the Oregon Department of Education, in partnership with Oregon State University and the Central Oregon STEM Hub. Thomas Arand, the STEM Beyond School regional coordinator said the hope is that opportunities of this nature will continue in the future.

“We are hopeful that this year is just the beginning of increased opportunities for high quality, student-driven STEM learning in Central Oregon,” said Arand. “Seeing and hearing from the students and families about what STEM Adventure Club has meant to them has been very inspiring.”

“This grant opportunity was invaluable for many reasons,” Bowker continued. “Through extra funding, we were able to develop community partnerships, and plan to continue that trajectory. I hope to bring more opportunities for STEM education to Camp Fire youth in the next school year, whether we are funded again or not. Of course, this funding allows us to delve deeper and serve a broader audience.”

Time Well Spent – Camp Fire Teen tells about her experience with the YAC

McKenzie Napier tells all about her time spent on Camp Fire’s Youth Advisory Council

By the age of 16, most teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in to the world. Camp Fire’s McKenzie Napier is no different. She keeps herself extremely busy between Nordic Skiing competitions by being an active member of her school’s leadership council, speech and debate team, and Camp Fire’s Work Health Love (WoHeLo) program. It’s clear that Napier has a strong head of steam. She’s determined to make a difference in her community, and learn how to be a leader. That’s why she decided to join Camp Fire’s National Youth Advisory Council (YAC).

Soft spoken and extremely bright, Napier has decided to lead by example, proving that young people can participate in more than one extracurricular commitment at a time. Her term with the YAC began in January, and she has been participating in regular phone meetings ever since. “Every few weeks we have a conference call and we go over whatever we’re working on that week,” she explains. Right now, Napier and her group, consisting of other teens from around the nation, are working toward revising Camp Fire’s WoHeLo program, the very program she is now a part of here in Bend. She is one of 12 young people who have been accepted to the YAC this year. The competition was stiff, and not all who applied were selected. The other participants are working on projects that range from planning for Absolutely Incredible Kid Day, to ensuring that Camp Fire councils from around the nation can communicate more efficiently with each other. “That’s basically our job,” Napier points out, “to help advise Camp Fire National on programs.  We make sure they’re still relevant and functioning.”

Of course, they have some help along the way. Each new YAC member is paired up with someone who participated in this program in the past. Napier’s mentor, a senior in High School, lives in Florida. “She’s really nice,” Napier acknowledges. “She checks in to make sure everything is going well.”

When asked if she believes that the YAC has had a positive impact on her life so far, Napier enthusiastically replies; “Oh yeah, definitely because I feel like it’s really difficult for teens to have an influence on things. Being in YAC allows me to be around a lot of other like-minded teens who want to have a positive impact.”


For more information on how you, or someone you know can get involved in Camp Fire, contact us today. Or check out some of these great teen programs:

Teens In Action

Counselor In Training (Summer)


Outdoor School Bill – How You Can Take Action

The Outdoor School Bill promises one week of outdoor learning for every 5th and 6th grader in Oregon–but it needs your support. If you feel passionately about this issue, then you can visit Outdoor School For All to learn more.

If you can put to words what Outdoor School would mean to you, or how outdoor learning has positively shaped you as a person, then you can write a letter of support for the Outdoor School Bill here. These letters must be received by April 30th.


For many people, living in Central Oregon comes with a few perks: the mountains are close, the rivers are wild, and there is something fun to do outside no matter what time of year it is–as long as you don’t mind snow in the winter, or scorching heat in the summer. This is a beautiful place, with a high concentration of adventurous, friendly, outdoorsy folk. Yet even here, in the land of sunshine and mountainous beauty, many children are unable to experience nature in a way that might add value and meaning to their lives.

The Outdoor School Bill promises to change that by ensuring that all 5th and 6th grade students will be able to attend a week of Outdoor School each year. The impact this would have on our state, our community, and the individual children living in our neighborhoods is huge. It would allow 5th and 6th grade students to learn about, and form a relationship with, nature at a very critical time in their development.

At Camp Fire, we have always recognized the importance of outdoor learning. Just last year, thanks to a generous donation from the Clabough Foundation, we were able to provide $15,000 in financial aid scholarships to children who otherwise would not have been able to attend day camp. The kids who attended our outdoor program learned about nature and ecology; they gained valuable outdoor skills like cooking over a fire and orienteering; they spent an entire week outside, engaged and in touch with the natural world, instead of indoors, playing video games or watching television. They sang songs, performed skits, set up tents, slept under the stars, and made new friends.