A STEM camp for girls

For parents of a child with a disability, it can be a challenge to find a summer camp that’s fun, rewarding and welcoming. 

“It’s so hard to find activities, especially for girls on the autism spectrum,” one mom told The PACER Center.

PACER is out to change that. Every August for the past 14 years, PACER, located in Bloomington, has run its EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) camp for middle school girls with all disabilities. 

A fun mix of activities

In this free camp, a group of 30 girls gather for five days of hands-on activities to learn just how much fun Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) can be. 

Corporations help sponsor EXITE and provide some of the volunteers. Animal experts, computer scientists, engineers, a local meteorologist and a wide range of volunteers, including a high school girls robotics team, pitch in to make EXITE Camp as exciting and relevant today as it was when it launched in 2003 with help from IBM. 

On any given day, you might find girls programming LEGO robots to compete in a bowling competition, enjoying liquid nitrogen ice cream or creating micro solar panels — to name just a few of the activities that have taken place at EXITE Camp. 

Beyond academics

The girls who participate face a range of disabilities. Teachers and volunteers are sensitive to that and work to make sure everyone feels welcomed. 

“It gave my daughter a chance to experience new things in a safe and supportive environment — an environment that values diversity and seeks to make sure everyone is supported and gets a chance,” said one mother whose daughter hopes to come back to EXITE Camp this summer. “At school, it is too easy for her to sit in the back and avoid interaction. My daughter developed a sense of accomplishment, that SHE can do this.”

Another mother, with daughter on the autism spectrum, said: “I thought it was phenomenal, all the companies that came in and did activities with the girls. On the day hosted by CH Robinson, my daughter came home talking about the basics of the supply chain and how fruit is packaged. She learned STEM skills and built her confidence. It was a very valuable experience for her.”

Another mother said she discovered a renewed hope for her daughter’s future: “She gained confidence in how her mind can grasp and understand more challenging academic areas. I am also very encouraged that she sees areas where she could work in jobs in science, medicine and technology.”

Making real friends

Those aren’t the only benefits participating girls have realized as part of EXITE, however. 

New friendships are at the top of the list, too. 

“My daughter made her first real friend ever,” said one mom.

“My daughter made friends, which was a huge accomplishment for her,” said another. “The opportunity to be with girls her own age who also have disabilities made her feel less singled out than at school.”

For some of the girls, joining a new group isn’t easy.  

One of the girls who attended offered advice for those who are worried about fitting in: 

“You shouldn’t be afraid to go,” she said. “Because it’s a lot of fun and you learn a lot about STEM.”

Her mom agreed: “This was an amazing experience for my daughter. What an incredible resource!”

 


PACER’s EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) Camp is for middle school girls with disabilities who are entering grades 6 to 9 in the fall. Girls learn the magic of science and technology at this FREE five-day camp designed to foster creativity, build self-esteem and encourage young girls to pursue interests in STEM. Visit pacer.org/stc/exite/camp.asp to learn more and apply. Enrollment is limited.