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RACINE — Guided by coordinates and a GPS, 20 local students raced through Downtown Racine Thursday to put their science and math knowledge to the test. 

The rising eighth- and ninth-grade campers at the Summer STEM Academy spent the week learning science and math through a variety of labs and activities, like the "Amazing Race"-style competition Thursday morning, which had science- and math-based challenges to be completed at stops throughout Downtown Racine.

“In all the science classes you’re just sitting at a desk, flipping pages in a textbook, and that gets boring," said James Adair, 12, a rising ninth-grader at The Prairie School. 

So the summer program is designed to do something different.

Run by the Center for Developing Excellence and held at the Prairie School, 4050 Lighthouse Drive, the camp offers rising sixth- through ninth-graders "hands-on" learning experiences, said Larry Jozwik, director of the Center for Developing Excellence.

“Especially with the test-centered society, we are forgetting how kids learn," Jozwik said. "They learn when things are fun."

The young scientists and mathematicians spent Thursday morning finding the speed of cars crossing the State Street Bridge, measuring the height of the Monument Square statue and identifying trees near the harbor as a way to give the previous days' classroom lessons a practical application, said Galen Steig, a middle school math teacher at The Prairie School.

“Kids probably wouldn't come out here and say 'how tall is that monument?' But (now they can) actually drive by sometime and say, 'I know how tall that is; I figured that out,'” Steig said.

The week's lessons also included learning to test buoyancy, make colors with fire and extract DNA.  

The program coordinators hope to encourage students to pursue upper-level science and math classes and eventually STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, Jozwik said.

“In a dream world, we want them to become engineers, come back to Racine, live in the community and ... improve our economy," Steig said. 

But before they get there, Steig hopes students will have the confidence to solve difficult problems and tackle more challenging concepts. 

“It’s going to help give us a start above everyone else," said Clara Ackley, 12, a rising eighth-grader at McKinley Middle School, of the program. 

About 80 campers in total, divided in two age groups, will participate in the program during its two sessions this summer, said Jozwik. He added that there is a set fee of $150 for the week, though about 50 to 75 percent of campers receive some scholarship money. 

This summer's program runs through July 25. 

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