The Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) hosted Camp Invention American Sign Language (ASL), July 18-22. Camp Invention, intended for children ages 6-11 who communicate in American Sign Language, welcomed campers from across the nation, including North Carolina, New York, Maine, and Texas; high school counselors were part of the camp staff.

According to its national website, Camp Invention, a nationally recognized, non-profit elementary enrichment program backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, has for over 40 years partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and has encouraged nearly two million children, teachers, parents, college students and independent inventors to explore science, technology and their own innate creativity, inventiveness and entrepreneurial spirit.

Camp Invention provides a curriculum to educators free of charge and allows local schools and organizations to host the camps. English professor Jill Bradbury was the driving force behind starting Camp Invention ASL, rectifying an absence of ASL summer camp programming in the DC metro area. As a mother, Bradbury, along with several other parents, wanted to find a program for their children that emphasized ASL communication.

“I heard about Camp Invention from a parent friend. It is what education should look like: creative, hands-on, and fun,” said Bradbury. “Campers love it and come back every year.”

Of the thousands of Camp Invention camps across the country, only MSSD and the Maryland School for the Deaf incorporate ASL. This year’s camp was filled to capacity. Bradbury served as camp director in 2014 and 2015. Joseph Santini, who taught at the camp both years, was encouraged by Bradbury to take over director duties for 2016.< “Camp Invention ASL is our attempt to not just make this material available in ASL, but to translate the material into an ASL-centric, deaf community perspective,” said Santini. “We’re trying harder to incorporate intentional bilingualism. We are giving parents announcements in ASL and emphasizing new ASL signs with campers. We are rewarding students by having them create ASL videos describing their inventions and how they will be used. It’s a challenge because the Camp Invention curriculum wasn’t designed for our community, but it gives us as deaf teachers the opportunity to exercise our creativity in making materials appropriate and engaging.” Throughout camp, campers rotated through four modules daily, each exploring STEM-related concepts. Campers worked on imagining and building several projects for the Inventors’ Showcase at the end of the week. They built their own robotic crickets, merged ingredients to create Flubber, and designed treehouses, among other activities. Deaf and hard of hearing elementary children received a fun, challenging curriculum. KODAs (Kids of Deaf Adults) were exposed to a visual learning environment, allowing opportunities to develop their ASL skills in new contexts, and high school student interns gained accessible and demanding work experience. Camp Invention ASL was featured on Washington’s NBC4 station during the camp. The camp was also visited by PTO staff, who said that after visiting over 90 camps, Camp Invention ASL was the cleanest and best decorated of all. Santini sees the impact Camp Invention ASL could have on the deaf community. “Deaf people are an invaluable part of the scientific research world,” said Santini. However, deaf students do not have equal opportunities in science fields. Give them fun exposure to new concepts at a young age, and let them make science a part of their thinking process with a creative kick. That’s what Camp Invention is all about.”

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