STEM Camps During the Summer of COVID-19

With more than 14 million Americans attending summer camp each year, COVID-19 has turned this widely loved pastime on its head. Enjoyed by children and adults alike, camps give people the opportunity to learn skills and engage in adventurous activities that are far from routine. For children, in particular, summer camps play a key role in cognitive, social, and emotional development. The American Camp Association 5-Year Camp Impact Study showed that camp provides kids with an opportunity to develop an appreciation for personal differences and a sense of  responsibility toward others. Former campers report that camp helped prepare them for their academic lives and their professional lives.2

Participation in camp also helps combat the “summer slide”, the loss of academic progress that kids experience during the long academic break. Students typically lose one month of learning between the end of a school year and the beginning of a new one. Studies have found that engagement in high quality summer learning programs can not only decrease the academic loss caused by the summer recess, but it can also improve academic outcomes for campers upon their return to classroom.3 Evidence shows that participation in summer camp may even improve college admissions odds.4 

These benefits are especially important for students of color and children from low-income households as BIPOC and low-income students suffer from the “summer slide” at a greater rate than their white counterparts, often due to less access to summer learning opportunities. By 5th grade, summer learning loss can leave these students up to three years behind their peers. A recent report suggests that 1,080 hours of the 6,000-hour opportunity gap between low and middle-income 6th grade students come from differences in access to summer enrichment programs.5    

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, summer camps have pivoted to help keep campers and staff safe. While over half of summer camps remain closed, a recent survey found that over a quarter of them are offering online activities.6  These camps provide an online community to help support students during the summer and provide children with a sense of consistency during the pandemic. For camps revolving around STEM and digital technology, going virtual may even add to the camp experience. 

The transition to virtual activities adds to the growing popularity of STEM-based camps. Over 30% of camp programs offer STEM-only programming, with other day camps offering STEM activities in their curriculum. Participation gives campers the opportunity to spark a lifelong interest in science and technology. Summer STEM camps can also act as a pipeline to a career in the field. The Smithsonian estimates that in 2018, there were more than 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs in the US.7  Since many schools do not offer a comprehensive STEM curriculum, exposing children to STEM education programs during the summer can be vital in helping a student imagine a future as botanist, engineer, or coder. Early engagement in STEM is critical to fostering a lifelong interest and aptitude in technology-related subjects, helping prepare students for career success in our fast-paced economy, according to the US Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. 

STEM careers have shown strong growth, with an 11% increase in jobs from 2009 to 2015, twice the growth percentage of non-STEM jobs.  The industry is lucrative, paying twice the salaries of non-STEM jobs.8

But these opportunities are not available to everyone, and minorities are underrepresented in the STEM education pipeline. Underrepresented populations make up only 20% of AP computer science students and hold a third of all undergraduate computer science degrees.9 In fact, just 2.2% of Latinos, 2.7% of African Americans, and 3.3% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have earned a university degree in a STEM field.7 

The gaps seen in education continue into the workplace. Hired’s 2019 State of Salaries Report showed that Black and Latino tech workers earn significantly less than their white counterparts.10 According to an analysis of 2017 data from, about eight percent of computing employees are Black and seven percent are Latino.11

Accessibility to summer STEM programming shapes the opportunities in tech for an entire generation of Black and Latino students. By providing high-quality STEM education to all, we can begin to see changes in the academic and professional disparities in science and tech.


  1. American Camp Association: A Facts and Trends. Accessed July 3, 2020.
  2. ACA: 5 Year Camp Impact Study. Accessed July 3, 2020.
  3. McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C. H., Schwartz, H. L., Bodilly, S. J., McInnis, B., Lichter, D. S., & Cross, A. B., Making summer count: How summer programs can boost children’s learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2011; pubs/monographs/MG1120.html
  4. Grant, KB. Summer camp may improve college admissions odds. CNBC. Published April 28, 2014. Accessed July 6, 2020.
  5. The After-School Corporation, The 6,000 Hour Learning Gap, 2014;
  6. Braker S. How Summer Camps are Responding to COVID-19: June Update. Published June 9, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  7. The Smithsonian. The Stem Imperative. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. STEM Occupations: Past, Present, And Future. Published January 2017. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  9. Stewart L. Diversity in Coding Bootcamps in 2020. Course Report. Published July 1, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
  10. Uberti D. Black and Hispanic Job Seekers Still Face Wage Gap in Tech. Wall Street Journal. Published June 17. 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.
  11. Gellman, L. Teaching Kids to Code During the Summer—for $1,000 a Week. The Atlantic. Published August 18, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2020.
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