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Roughly a half-dozen students from Santa Maria-area schools spent Tuesday morning building circuits and programming robots for a five-day STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — Maker Camp.

One of four summer programs offered by the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, the weeklong camp extends classroom learning opportunities using outside enrichment that help students develop teamwork and other essential skills.

On Monday, for example, students extracted DNA from five different fruits and learned about bacteria and microorganisms by making pizza dough.

"The camps are a great way for children to spend three or four hours at the Discovery Museum to learn new skills and work together," said Nancy Gastelum, the organization's executive director.

Gastelum said the Discovery Museum has offered half-day summer enrichment programs for several years, offerings she said differ from traditional day care camps.

For three to four hours a day, Discovery Museum staff, community partners or local professionals guide participants through workshops or activities on a specific topic or curriculum.

Earlier this month students made stop-motion movies with instruction from a Hancock College professor and worked with Orcutt Academy High School's robotics team to build and program Lego robots.

"One of the things we do is spark curiosity in our campers so they ask those questions," Gastelum said. "We're doing what we're meant to do — we want to spark a child's interest so they're inclined to learn more."

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Some activities, like making pizza dough, allowed students to take their newfound knowledge home and share it with their parents. 

"As the parents arrived to pick up their kids, they were met with all of them clamoring to go home and bake pizza with them tonight," said Will Pena, one of the STEAM Camp's leaders. "It’s great to know that we were able to create an opportunity for families to bond with each other outside of the Discovery Museum."

Gastelum hopes to secure additional funding to allow the Discovery Museum to expand its summer programs to winter and spring breaks.

She said the museum is also exploring new partnerships with other organizations and seeking new ways to subsidize the cost or fund their programs. 

"When I lived in bigger cities, I remember colleges and universities had these camps," she said. "I always wanted to send my children to those camps but couldn't afford them.

"But when you look at our demographics, we're the third-highest rate of child poverty ... and 85% of students [are] in the free or reduced price lunch program," Gastelum said. "How could we ever be able to afford a camp for our children?"

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Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.