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Cybercamp at UC Berkeley a summer with high technology

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Thursday July 11, 2002

It is a summer camp for 2002. Sure, there’s capture the flag and frisbee, but the kids at Cybercamps on the UC Berkeley campus also spend five hours a day in a computer lab, studying 3-D Animation, web design and robotics. 

“I’m aspiring to build a robot with my dad for BattleBots,” said one camper, referring to a Comedy Central television show that features robot combat. 

The UC Berkeley camp is one of 45 nationwide, operated by the Cybercamps company, founded in Seattle in 1997. 

“We see ourselves as a supplement to schools,” said founder Pete Findley. “With all their other essential priorities, many schools don’t have the time, money or training necessary to offer advanced technology learning opportunities during the school year.” 

Corporate sponsors like Microsoft, Sony and Electronic Arts provide the camp with digital cameras, games and software, including expensive programs that campers might not otherwise encounter. 

Robotics instructor Mario Roaf-Esparza, who will be a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y. in the fall, said campers are learning both tangible and intangible skills. 

“They’re learning some basic mechanical engineering,” he said, noting that campers are learning to build circuits on their robots.  

But in programming the robots, they’re also learning something about logic and troubleshooting. 

All the camps, including the UC Berkeley program, accept children ages 6-17, although Berkeley camp director Erica Allen said most tend to be on the older end of that scale. This week the program has 29 campers, about half of them commuting each day and half staying the night in campus dorms.  

“They learn about a lot of new technologies that give them a step above,” said Allen. “But our number one rule is to have fun.” 

Case in point: a relay race called “soak the counselor” involves dousing one of the camp’s five counselors with water. 

“They have a blast,” said Jeff Claybaugh, assistant camp director, who supervises the residential campers. Lights-out time is 10 p.m., he said, but he often hears kids talking past midnight. 

The camp is scheduled to run through Aug. 10. The weekly fee is $600 to $1,000, depending on whether a camper commutes or stays the night. Scholarships are available for children from low-income families. Call 888-904-2267 to register.