University of St. Thomas students design virtual summer camp for deaf and hard of hearing children

University of St. Thomas students assemble the weekly boxes that will be delivered to campers for their virtual summer camp.

There is not much that feels normal this summer, but some creative students at the University of St. Thomas are working to make sure kids still get a summer camp experience to remember.

“The PLAYground” is an eight-week virtual summer camp designed for the deaf and hard of hearing by students in The Playful Learning Lab program at St. Thomas. It’s a way to keep the kids learning, playing and connected over the long summer days.

“We hand deliver these boxes each week to students with our partner Metro Deaf School,” said Sara Thibault, a senior at the University of St. Thomas. “Students range from kindergarten to 8th grade and all the boxes have all the materials they need.”

Much like a traditional camp, there’s plenty of excitement for new activities.

“As soon as we drive away, the kids will run out and grab the boxes and show them off to the parents because they’re so excited,” said Thibault.

There’s a STEM theme each week.

“Nature and outdoors, coding and tech, we’re currently in LEGOs, science and engineering, OK Go Sandbox, games and magic and celebrations,” said Emma Monson, a junior at the University of St. Thomas.

The counselors meet with the 86 campers via Zoom to connect. One of those campers looking forward to the calls is third grader Henry McKenna.

“The birdhouse, the birdhouse was my favorite,” he said.

“He watches the time and he knows when it’s time and he certainly lets me know when it’s 11 o’clock and we hop on and get into the Zoom room,” said Jessica Wittrock, the personal care assistant for Henry.

Henry and Wittrock have had a great time with the projects, both learning along the way.

“It’s been wonderful for me to watch him grow and work together with several of those projects that come out of the box, I think it’s a great idea,” she said.

The St. Thomas students have taken even another step to make sure the camp and projects are accessible to everyone. They have videos of all the lessons in each box online, and done in English, ASL, Spanish, Arabic and soon Somali as well. For more information, click here.