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Last weekend we had the chance to meet most of the girls we would be working with this summer at Eureka at the family orientation, otherwise known as Family Fun Fest. At this orientation day the students and their parents broke off into different groups so the parents could talk about logistics and give some of the curriculum their children would be doing a try, and the girls were able to start getting to know other campers. The sessions were broken into a morning group of parents who preferred English as their first language and the afternoon session was for parents who preferred Spanish. It was at this time, I was able to see the true demographic of the campers we would be teaching.


There was an even number of English and Spanish speaking families, and a multitude of apparent ethnicities. These young girls throughout both groups ranged from young and nervous seventh graders to buzzing tenth graders running around and reuniting with their camp friends they met years ago. There was an obvious spectrum of excitement with some students standing on the perimeter of the group staring at the ground and internally screaming to not get picked to demonstrate activities or get called out for not participating while others were screaming responses to our questions and raising their hands at every opportunity.


The name games and icebreakers were going as expected during the first group of the day; we went around one by one the circle combining our first names with an alliterative adjective and a motion for everyone to repeat. When we reached one seventh grader new to the camp she paused and while the group tried to playfully throw out suggestions for her name I could sense her increasing unease. Before I had time to judge her discomfort and step in, there were tears welling in her eyes and she was struggling to catch her breath. She was having a panic attack and I caught myself unprepared and looking around for anyone to help. Luckily, an older staffer was in the group and quickly took the girl to go inside and calm down.


After the moment passed, the young campers got right back to the game without a second thought, but I continued to think about the girl who was so overwhelmed by the activity that she was driven to tears. Later in the day those thoughts subsided and when we played the same game with the afternoon group everything went smoothly.


Throughout the facilitator trainings, I kept thinking to myself how lucky these girls were to have this opportunity to learn such advanced and unique STEM lessons and how I would have wanted to attend this camp so badly as a middle schooler. Until seeing the visible anxiety from some of the future campers I never considered that not everyone felt this way, and at 13 I was nervous about meeting new people and being separated from my friends. I had forgotten how tricky this age was and now the responsibilities that go beyond just facilitating the classrooms are clearer than ever.


There is a week until camp actually begins and while I am confident that this will be a great summer for us and for the students, I am now fully aware that connecting with some of these girls could be difficult and I might have to make some students uncomfortable for them to ultimately branch out by the end. Regardless, I know I will be prepared in the future if other students feel overwhelmed or unsafe.