Daniel Chavez snacked on cheese crackers as he tried to figure out the best coding for the small, white, two-wheeled robot assigned to him and his colleague, Jacob Ratcliff.

The two 12-year-olds ran through a couple of different codes, the wheels of the robots turning as Jacob held the robot.

“We’ve been working on this since Tuesday, and we’re trying to figure out how to make the robot do what we want. So, it’s been a lot of deleting code and starting over,” Daniel said. “It’s been fun, though.”


Jacob Ratcliff, 12, works on his robot during the Science Mill Summer Camp.

Daniel is one of 30 middle school-aged children who participated in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics camp this week at the Victoria ISD Conference Center.

The STEM camp is a program from Science Mill, an educational organization based in Johnson City that provides an immersive STEM experience for middle school students.

The camp is one of four that are sponsored by AshBritt Environmental, the debris removal and disaster response contractor for the city of Victoria and Victoria County after Hurricane Harvey.

Gerardo Castillo, chief of staff for AshBritt and a member of the AshBritt Foundation, said the company wanted to do more for the youth of Victoria after Harvey hit the area.

During the weeklong camp, the children learned about coding, robotics, teamwork and critical thinking skills.


Zoey Chamberlain, 11, is amazed as the device she had been working on during the Science Mill Summer Camp finally begins to work.

“This (the camp) really sets the kids up well for when they’re older and in their careers, whatever that may be,” Castillo said. “Collaboration is key and teamwork is critical, and they start learning that now.”

Bonita Baskin, president of Science Mill, said the theme of the camp is “Adventures in STEM,” and campers faced a post-apocalyptic world. The campers used the skills they learned to create projects that would be useful in rebuilding a world after a catastrophe.

Daniel and Jacob decided to build their robot to hold a cellphone to record and transmit a live recording feed.

“It would be used to scavenge for food items and to go into places where people aren’t able to go to safely,” Jacob said.

On the other side of the room, Malina Morales worked on a program to be downloaded onto a micro bit. The 1-inch piece of hardware would then be connected to a building set to take the temperature of a water bottle. The project was made out of K’nex toy pieces, tape, clear tubes and syringes. The air pressure from the syringes funneled through the clear tubes would move the water bottle up to the micro bit to take the temperature of the water.

“By doing this, we would know whether the water would be safe to drink,” said Malina, 12.

Ellie Adrean, who also helped to build the water temperature project, said the camp has been a fun learning experience. The campers learned about coding and building projects, but they were also able to figure out how to make a STEM project on their own, Ellie said.

“I like experimenting, and we’ve been able to make our own projects. It’s been fun,” Ellie, 12, said.

Amber Aldaco reports on education for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at aaldaco@vicad.com or 361-580-6303.

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Education Reporter

Amber Aldaco is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She's covered various events in the Crossroads including a zoo rescue, a biker funeral and a state meeting with the governor. She enjoys singing with her significant other.

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