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Camps ‘Xcelerate’ students through summer at Waubonsee

SUGAR GROVE – John Meyer said his students often surprise him when it comes to creating video games in the course he teaches through Waubonsee Community College’s Xcelerate summer program.

Students enrolled in the course, called Game Master, learn the ins and outs of video game production. Meyer said by the end of the weeklong course, students have created a video game they can actually play.

“Kids surprise me,” he said. “They really do have a lot of pretty interesting suggestions. The older ones are very creative, but much more introspective.”

For example, one of his students created a game where the goal was for Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears, to knock out players from the Green Bay Packers.

Game Master is one of about 20 courses included in the Xcelerate program, otherwise known as summer enrichment camps. The program, which runs through August, is for kids ages 4 to 14.

New camps have emerged each year since the program’s inception four years ago, said Doug Grier, dean for community education at Waubonsee.

“It’s grown and evolved every year,” he said. “Last year was the first year for preschool camps, and then we added some topics, gradually increasing the number of camps overall.”

Enrollment has doubled each year since the Xcelerate program began, with about 500 signed up this year. Grier noted that doesn’t mean 500 different students have taken courses because some participate in more than one topic.

New courses this year include First Responders – Be a Hero, Horseback Riding Camp, Camp Oo-Koo-Lay-Lay (a ukulele camp), Kung Fu Camp, Fashion Diva Design – Pajama Party and Next Top Chefs Cooking Camp.

Those are in addition to courses that have proven popular in past years, including LEGO Robotics, Science Xplosion, Adventures in Movie Making and X-Tech Computer Camp. Camps offered for preschool-age children include courses on dinosaurs, kitchen science and outer space.

Grier said the program’s niche is science and technology, because there’s a lot of interest in those topics and not many other summer programs offer courses on them.

“We capitalize on what we would think would be the strengths of the college,” he said. “We try to figure out what young people are interested in first of all, and what’s feasible to offer and what we have available on campus.”

Meyer said in Game Master, students start out by making a simple Minesweeper-like game, then move toward more complex games, such as a maze adventure and a game similar to Super Mario Brothers. Students also learn basic programming commands.

“They’re pretty ecstatic. They very much enjoy it,” Meyer said. “I feel like they are at an age where they’re not as interested in the conceptual types of things, but when they create a character and see them move, it creates awe factor for them.”

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