Aaronita Belton dreamed of launching a summer camp for kids that would be fun but focused on learning. She started with 25 kids.
On Thursday, Belton, 68, along with several Clinton Junior College faculty members and 50 campers, celebrated the camp's 14th anniversary.
It's called STEM Camp, for its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. It's open to ages 5 to 12. Kids pay $20 a week, and for two weeks in June and July, they take classes at Clinton Junior College. They also play games and take trips to a local swimming pool, skating rink and movie theater.
"It's like school, but it's more fun," said 10-year-old camper Destiny Lee-Brice.
Kids are split into groups of about 10, based on age. Professors from Clinton teach the classes, mixing fresh activities with traditional lessons.
On Wednesday morning, Destiny and her classmates dissected cow kidneys.
Teacher Ann Reid had them draw and study the organs. Then, they went online to research how kidneys work and wrote short essays about what they learned.
"It was kind of disgusting," said Deandrea McMullen, 11. "But we learned a lot."
Reid said the goal is to keep kids learning during their summer vacations and to make it affordable. Camp organizers use tuition fees and grant money from the National Science Foundation to run the camp.
"It's a time when kids are exposed to things they ... may not have done in school," she said. And, "It's a chance for building new friendships."
There isn't much conclusive research about how summer remediation programs such as STEM Camp affect performance in school, according to researchers at The Education Trust, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. Success depends on several factors, such as the experience and quality of teachers and whether the subject matter is in line with what kids learn in school, researchers say.
Kids at Clinton Junior College's camp say it works.
"I think it's a good learning place," said 11-year-old Gabe Kirk. "It helps me get to work and not just lay on the couch eating chips."