Jared Polis visits Camp Invention at Brush Creek Elementary, engages with young innovators

The governor admired cardboard jetpacks and watched marble runs on a tour of the STEM summer program

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis visits with Addison Wedgeworth, Timber Toyama and another camper while principal Brooke Cole looks on Friday at Brush Creek Elementary in Eagle. The governor made a quick stop at Camp Invention to check out projects created by young campers.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

EAGLE — Gov. Jared Polis visited Camp Invention at Brush Creek Elementary School in Eagle on Friday, meeting the 74 young innovators currently participating in the STEM-focused summer program and viewing their showcased creations. 

Camp Invention is a science and technology summer enrichment program, developed and co-sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which operate over 1,000 summer camps nationwide. Per the program’s website, Camp Invention seeks to “[turn] curious kids into innovative thinkers” through a unique, hands-on curriculum that incorporates STEM topics to promote problem-solving and leadership.

“We know that so many children don’t learn as well in a natural academic environment and that they need something more outside the box,” said Wendy Merkert, the director of development for NIHF, who represented the organization for the governor’s visit. “Camp Invention allows them to have the opportunity to work with their hands, to use their creativity, their imagination, and to innovate in any way that they think is possible.”

Gov. Jared Polis talks with Camp Invention participants during their lunch break Friday at Brush Creek Elementary in Eagle.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

Camp Invention launched its first summer programs in Colorado over 20 years ago. According to Nathan Johnson, regional representative of NHIF K-12 programs, Camp Invention first came to Eagle in 2013. 

Polis decided to visit to the camp after learning of the STEM summer program from Kathi Vidal, director of the United States Trademark Office, in a meeting several weeks ago. Polis, who served on the State Board of Education for over six years, has long taken interest in issues surrounding education and childhood development.

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Gov. Jared Polis speaks with Camp Invention counselors William Zurbay, MacKenzie Sprincz and Blake Anderson while camper Margaret Owens looks on in the Robotic Aquatics classroom at Brush Creek Elementary.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

Camp Director Carrie Rodgers, who first got involved with Eagle’s Camp Invention as an instructor in 2014, led the governor on his tour. Polis visited four classrooms, each of which serves as a home base to a different “module” provided by Camp Invention’s curriculum: this year’s include, “Marble Arcade,” “Space-cation,” “The Attic,” and “Robotic Aquatics.” Throughout the week, groups of campers rotate through these themes.

After appearing at the reopening of the Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Springs earlier in the morning, Polis arrived at Brush Creek Elementary just after noon, and greeted campers during their lunchtime. One camper, goldfish bag in hand, took the opportunity to show Polis the jetpack-like invention he created while stationed at the “Space-cation” module earlier in the week. The invention, like all others created at Camp Invention, was crafted entirely from recycled and up-cycled materials. 

Polis stopped in to visit with each of the four age groups, briefly interacting with campers and instructors, and often asking about what the K-6ers had learned and created throughout the week.

Gov. Jared Polis speaks with Wendy Merkert during his visit Friday to Camp Invention at Brush Creek Elementary in Eagle.
Nate Peterson/Vail Daily

After visiting the classrooms, Polis followed three campers to the school’s multi-purpose room, where they performed a live demonstration of the marble runs they constructed and built upon throughout camp. Polis watched several trials of the contraption, congratulating the campers when, on the third try, their marble landed in the right place — marking a successful run. 

As Rodgers later explained, initial frustrations with inventions (such as the marble-ramp struggle Polis witnessed) exemplifies one of the primary learning objectives of Invention Camp. 

“The biggest part of this camp is helping them recognize failure and [move] past it,” she said. “Projects fall apart and when that happens that will help them persevere and try new creative ways to problem-solve.”

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