"How do we value the undervalued?" That was the general theme of this year's SMASH Camp, a collaborative venture between Decatur Public School District #61 (DPS) and Millikin University, held this past June.
The four-week program provided an educational platform for middle school students to focus on learning the elements of entrepreneurship.
"SMASH Camp is tied to Millikin's School of Education and Center for Entrepreneurship to help bring entrepreneurship education to middle schools," said Dr. Christie Magoulias, Millikin associate professor of education. "The theme for this year's camp was developed from the idea of repurposing rather than just recycling."
Throughout the camp, teams of students designed, manufactured and marketed products that were created from recycled, upcycled or repurposed items. The students sold their final products online. Millikin students, faculty and DPS teachers led the camp experience for 40 students.
"The students looked at items that were not being used and they reused them to create the products," said Dr. Magoulias. "We focused on examples of items that traditionally go into landfills and could be used in different ways."
The designed products included chairs converted from old tires, a desk made from an organ, a lounge chair on wheels made from pallets, wall art made from paper towel and toilet paper tubes and candles made from broken crayons.
The products sold for a total of $350 and the profits were divided evenly among the students; each receiving a $10 gift card.
Millikin first-year student and camp counselor Marrissa Drake, from Decatur, Ill., enjoyed the experience of working with the middle school students. "It was fun because the students wanted to go out and build products. The students wanted to go out in the community and get involved with activities. It was great that we could make connections with the school district."
Beginning in 2012, SMASH Camp was created to engage a high-potential group of Decatur Public School students, and to promote inquiry-based learning approaches for both students and adults.
In previous years, the camp offered hands-on learning experiences through various sectors including: energy, health, arts, food science and media.
Counselor Kamie Meador noted, "SMASH Camp has definitely evolved over the last couple of years. I've been involved with different versions of the camp and this year's camp provided a different mind-shift. Students entered camp not knowing what they would engage in, and in my opinion, that's when the best learning takes place."
Meador added, "It's a great example of what true education looks like. We saw students in manufacturing sessions learning skills that they never had before and then combine those skills with things such as marketing. It was a powerful journey."
Brandi Marks, a sophomore secondary teaching major at Millikin, from Richton Park, Ill., said, "Getting involved with the camp was great because it's something I eventually want to do with my career. The students did everything themselves and our job was to make sure they had the resources to do it. The students took so much pride in their work."