June 15, 2003
Gather Round the Screen, Kids
BY SHARRON KAHN LUTTRELL
IN THE MID-1970s,Fairfield University professor Michael Zabinski won
grants to train high school teachers to integrate computers into their
curriculum. The experience got him thinking about ways to reach children
directly. In 1977, he founded the nation's first computer camp.
For two weeks that first summer, a group of children, mostly 10 to 14 year
olds, gathered in a small, junior high school classroom, drawn by the
opportunity to get their hands on something most kids their age had seen only
on television. They learned Basic, used Wang computers and stored their work on
audiocassettes. "In those days, the super, super, super majority of kids
did not have a computer at home or even at school," says Zabinski, a
professor of physics and engineering. "For them, it was the mystique that
attracted them to the camp."
The following year, Zabinski acquired 24 Radio Shack TRS 80s, some with floppy
drives 5.25 inches wide. Now, Zabinski runs five National Computer Camps around
and XML on their pick of a 2GHz PC or Mac.
Since those days, computer camps have sprung up across the country like Web
pop-up ads. Unlike traditional summer camps, which feature rustic cabins by a
lake, computer camps are typically held on college campuses. Campers sleep in
dorm rooms. Swimming, if offered, takes place in a pool. Technology immersion
is the goal.
But there is one important similarity between computer camps and their more
traditional counterparts: a chance to forge lasting friendships with kindred
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