The popular ExploreHope Summer Camps at Hope College for children have achieved accreditation from the American Camp Association, providing external recognition of the engaging hands-on science experiences that area K-12 students have enjoyed for a quarter century.
The American Camp Association (ACA) is the only nationwide organization that accredits all types of organized camps. While accreditation isn’t required for summer camps for children, the Hope program’s forthcoming 25th anniversary seemed the perfect time to complete the association’s voluntary review process and meet the requirements, according to Susan Ipri Brown, who is director of ExploreHope Academic Outreach and an assistant professor of engineering instruction at the college.
“Accreditation demonstrates ExploreHope's commitment to a quality, high-caliber program,” she said. “We value both the impactful training and experiential learning of our Hope student staff along with a safe and engaging experience for our campers. Accreditation marks our commitment to our families and serves as a strong foundation for us to continue to innovate and encourage life-long learning in the community.”
Established in 1997, the college’s science camp program typically features more than 50 week-long day camps attended by approximately 1,000 K-12 students between mid-June and the end of July. The camps are organized by age group, and through the years have featured themes ranging from “Tykes Lego” to “Tinker Engineering” to “Movie Making” to “EV Lego Mindstorms” to “Experimental Design.” Each runs for a week in the morning or afternoon.
The individual camps are staffed by Hope students, all of whom receive training and mentoring in advance. Many of the student instructors are education majors who plan to go into teaching, and Ipri Brown noted that leading the camps provides valuable in-service experience for them as well.
The camps started with a dream of a scientist to share his excitement for science with a younger generation, when Tod Gugino, long-time chemistry department lab manager at the college, began running summer science programs. In the first year, about 25-30 elementary-school students participated in a single chemistry-themed camp, with two Hope science students helping out the first year.
Word spread, and over the years the camps gradually grew in both number and scope. Across the history of the program, a total of 194 different camps have been developed, attended by nearly 12,000 participants. Even the region-wide shutdown of 2020 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop the program entirely — the organizers created science kits that year for children and their families to enjoy together at home.
Approximately 150 Hope students have been employed as camp staff since the program began. The fun has also come full circle, with some members of the camp staff having been campers as kids.
The camps are now named in honor of Gugino, who died in 2013. As part of ExploreHope, they are also now among a range of outreach programs at Hope that provide innovative academic experiences and introduce K-12 students to college campuses.
ExploreHope is a self-funded program at Hope that manages not only the Summer Science Camp program but also Saturday outreach programs during the academic year and programs with local schools. Partnerships with local youth-serving organizations and local schools have expanded the reach of the program, along with partnerships with Hope College academic departments and the college’s Office of Sustainability.
ExploreHope aims to include a diverse population of participants that reflect the community at large regardless of financial or logistical barriers to participation. Through generous donations from community members and grants from external agencies, the program has been able to provide assistance for children whose families demonstrate financial need.
More information about ExploreHope is available through hope.edu/explore
More information about the American Camp Association is available at acacamps.org