DARIEN — For the third year Darien Boy Scouts and Connecticut Yankee Council have successfully held their summer STEM Camp at the Andrew Shaw Memorial Scout Cabin.

Patrick Gentile, camp leader and Andrew Shaw Memorial Trust Board Member, said the camp is assisted by STEM Venture Crew #353, the new Scout Venture Crew that he founded in 2016.

“(A Venture Crew is) a boy scout unit that is co-educational,” Gentile said. “(Ours is) probably the only unit in the United States that is dedicated to STEM curriculum research development and teaching.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

The unit is open to high school boys and girls and they can stay until they’re 20 years old, said Gentile. Today there are 20 dedicated high school students that do research and develop curriculum, he said.

“Our high school students work alongside our STEM-certified teachers,” he said. “We have three teachers that teach mathematics, computer coding, robotics technology and engineering.”

The engineering class is taught by the high school students, said Gentile. Classes go on throughout the day with mathematics and robotics technology being held in the morning. The students are given lunch breaks and then take the last two classes in the afternoon.

“We realized there was a big need throughout the communities,” he said. “Throughout Darien and inner-city communities around Fairfield county that really needed hands-on STEM teaching.”

This program focuses on youth teaching youth in a hands-on experiential learning environment, Gentile said. The rising first- to fifth-graders get an opportunity to learn by doing.

“When youth leads youth its a real strong exponential power,” he said. “Younger kids really look up to the older kids. When they see older kids in action, it really engages them.”

Two years ago, high school students from the STEM Venture Crew #353 did a presentation to the Darien foundation and won a grant for $30,000. This helped to supply all the equipment the camp uses to this day.

“This year we were fortunate enough to get a little bit of money from First County bank,” Gentile said. “Fairfield Community Foundation has been an amazing resource as well.”

The funding helped to give full scholarships to 12 of the 27 children attending the camp.

Maximus Racanelli, a Venturer for crew #353 and member of Boy Scout Troop #53, said he got involved because he enjoyed the program.

“As a den chief, I also needed to get some hours helping out kids,” he said. “The kids like to learn and they’re very engaged. I really enjoy teaching people.”

Julia Pfrommer, a volunteer from Darien High School, said she got involved because of her personal passion for STEM.

“I like sharing my passion with other people,” she said.

Pfrommer and Racanelli assist teachers in the classroom. Racanelli said there are usually two groups with around 14 kids between each. Pfrommer said she enjoyed volunteering.

“I really like kids,” Pfrommer said. “Overall they really want to learn and that makes it great.”

Gentile said starting kids at an early age can help them stay interested in the field later in life.

“The great thing about this program is it’s co-educational. We try to make sure that everybody has access,” he said. “The key is to have access to new technology and at least have access to figuring out what type of career paths they might like at an early age.”

dj.simmons@hearst

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