As the school year winds down and summer camp season gets busy, Chris Morris and Tonya Baskerville are getting ready for a big summer.
The two - moms, friends and business partners - run Club Scientific and KidzArt in north Raleigh, providing classes and camps for kids from preschoolers to middle schoolers. They started the program - first as Rock It Learning - several years ago when their sons, now 19, were in middle school.
The two had a lot in common. Their sons were the same age (Morris has twins sons). Baskerville also has a daughter, 14. And they each married their high school sweethearts.
"We started Rock It Learning when our boys were headed into middle school and we realized their were not a lot of track out options for their age group," Baskerville tells me.
Today, the program offers multiple, full-day camps each week for various age groups. The camps are small - just 12 students in each one.
I chatted online with Baskerville abut their program and what they love about it. Here's our conversation:
Go Ask Mom: Tell us about yourself and how long you've been offering programs for kids.
Tonya Baskerville: We opened eight years ago as Rock It Learning, a hands-on science camp for ages 9 to 14. Prior to that, I had had been a teacher in my hometown county of Orange, Va. I came to the Raleigh area with 16 years teaching experience and then added two additional years to that by teaching at Pleasant Union Elementary School for two years. My business partner Chris Morris worked for N.C. State for eight years in the University Payroll Department. She took time off after having her twins and volunteered at their school, Pleasant Union, holding various positions in the PTA, subbing and more.
Rock It Learning offered science activities focused on mainly of physics - we built rockets and launched them. We designed, built and then crushed bridges to see which one was the strongest. We had a lights and laser camp where the kids learned about various types of lights and lasers and then we would show them how to bend the laser light. By the end, they were setting up security systems. The only way to know if their security system worked was to then let them become the thief and break in. They LOVED it! We also had a weather camp as well as a Lego camp where they were not only able to build particular Lego items, but also learned how to program them to move in a certain way. Because of our year-round situation, we had shorter two and three-day camps as well when the school calendar dictated that schedule length. Those units included a simple machines camp, a flight camp, a geocaching camp and a treasure camp.
Since Rock It Learning handled the track-out camps, we thought expanding into the after-school programs would be a good idea. So we purchased the North Raleigh KidzArt franchise from a friend of ours. We got that program going in some Wake County schools and then KidzArt offered us the opportunity to re-branded Rock It Learning into Club Scientific. We liked this idea because it gave us 18 new units, plus additional after-school units. We were also able to expand our age group from 9 to 14 to 3 to 14!
GAM: Why did you want to start something like this?
TB: We opened Rock It Learning because of a need for track-out camps when Wake County was forcing a year-round calendar. Many elementary and middle schools were being told that they had to switch to a year-round calendar to meet the needs of the increased population that was happening in the county. There were lots of track-out camps for the younger children, but not many that met the needs of the older students. We were the first science track-out camp that was opened year round in the Raleigh area. We created a fun, caring, safe atmosphere where the older kids could come "hang out" and do some cool science experiments that they actually wanted to do at school, but teachers did not have the time or money to do them in their regular classroom setting. We tried very hard to be the enrichment camp - not stealing the teachers' thunder, but instead providing the extension-type activity that would later support what the teacher was doing in their class.
GAM: What kinds of programs do you offer?
TB: Our offerings now include the following:
Ages 3 to 4: We Love Bugs!, Frozen and Fun at the Zoo (These are half day art & science combo classes)
Ages 4 to 5: L'il Scientist, Jurassic and L'il Chemist
Ages 6 to 8: Jr. Scientist, Jr. Robot Inventor, Jr. Paleontologist, Jr. Video Game Maker, Brick 'Botics (Lego) and Jr. Sea Explorer
Ages 9 to 14: CSI, Deep Space, Build'Em Bust'Em (RIL Bridges camp), Emergency Vet, Deep Space (Lego), Robot Adventures (Lego), and Hollywood Special Effects
GAM: Working with kids for so long, what have you learned about their eagerness in learning and curiosity?
TB: Our most common kid comments after a week at our camp - whether it was Rock It Learning or Club Scientific was, "I had so much fun. It was like they tricked me into learning." Or, "I wouldn't mind going to school if it was like this." It made me realize that we truly filled a niche for the kids that attended our camps. Our camps were child centered and focused on things in the science world that they were curious about. They also realized after joining us that Chris and I were more facilitators, giving them control of their own learning by giving them the instructions and materials needed to complete the activity. Kids need to see it and touch it in addition to hearing about it. Many times, school is only focused on listening, but that's really only beneficial for a very small group of auditory learners.
GAM: What do you love about this job?
TB: It's hard to narrow this down to just one thing. Personally, I love the growth and confidence that kids gain from being in our camps. From that comes a lot of smiles, laughter and great conversation about what they've learned.
For information about camps across the region, check Go Ask Mom's camp database.