DI returns to Knoxville for second annual Summer of Innovation camp

By: Tina Shaffer

Earlier this month, 80 kids and teens gathered at the Montgomery Village Boys and Girls Club in Knoxville, TN to participate in the second annual Summer of Innovation (SOI) camp. Hosted by Destination Imagination and the University of Tennessee, the one-week event was designed to increase the interest of underserved students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and teach the value of 21st Century skills, including teamwork, self-esteem and courage. Participants ranged in ages from 8-18.

While the majority of the SOI programming was team oriented, each day, the students participated in an independent, self-reflection activity. One of the activities encouraged them to imagine and draw a self-portrait of their future selves. This seemingly simple activity was very challenging for many of the kids because it required them to think beyond their present circumstances-which is not something they have the freedom to do very often.  With some support and encouragement from the SOI staff, most of the kids created self-portraits that reflected hope, happiness, safety and some ambitious dreams like going to college and becoming doctors or owning their own businesses.

SOI students also worked in teams to design their ideal community. Many designs included a set of rules for the citizens to follow. Some of the personalized rules ranged from “respect others” to “no violence” to “play video games in school.” A variety of the dream community designs also included a Boys and Girls Club, evidencing that this amazing youth-based facility is a safe haven for many kids and teens in South Knoxville. “The goal of this Challenge was to give the kids an opportunity to envision a healthy community and then realize they have the opportunity and the skills to unleash that very potential in their own community at Montgomery Village,” said Britt Dyer, DI’s Director of Creative Initiatives and coordinator of Summer of Innovation.

The most popular Challenge at this year’s camp session was, without a doubt, Trashin’ Fashion! During this Challenge, students joined forces to dress up each member of their team using a variety of creative materials. Team fashion designs ranged from capes and wings to duct tape gauntlets and earrings made out of clown noses. When it was time to present their Trashin’ Fashion solutions, the students walked, danced and strutted their stuff down a pool-noodle runway before explaining their solution.

Other team-based Challenges included Paper Tower, which required teams to construct the tallest tower possible with only 20 sheets of paper and the Silly Circus Auditions Challenge, which encouraged students to think outside of the box in order to devise and perform wacky circus acts.

In addition to participating in Challenges, students had the opportunity to make astronaut ice cream and engage in rock-paper-scissor tournaments with University of Tennessee staff members.

To promote healthy competition at Summer of Innovation, teams earned points for their Challenge solutions based on creativity and teamwork. Every day of camp was ended with special awards. SOI participants and staff could give “shout-outs” to team members who demonstrated positive behavior during the day. Both the SOI staff and Boys and Girls Club staff were committed to teaching and demonstrating what it looks like to be a good role model to this special group of kids.

While the camp session lasted only one week, DI and the University of Tennessee hopes the students have been empowered to apply skills learned through Summer of Innovation to their daily lives. 

“One of the most valuable lessons my nine years of participating in DI taught me was that there is always a solution to every challenge. Always,” said Britt Dyer. “If these kids can learn to unleash their creativity, solve Challenges, communicate and collaborate in a safe environment, we know that they will innately apply those skills to their outside lives as well. These kids are world-changers. We just have to do our job as adults to give them a solid platform to excel.”