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Chester County Press

Kid espionage

07/26/2016 01:06PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Although the sunlight through the window of the Kennett Public Library did its best to coax 25 area youngsters outdoors, the children chose to remain inside. Their faces, however, were not blankly staring into the latest Smartphone gadgetry or frozen before a television.
Using soldering tools, they were creating their own short-wave FM radio transmitters as part of a four-day workshop that introduced students from the sixth through twelfth grades to the technology and design of tools commonly used in spy missions.
The camp, held from July 18 to 22, served as the library's third annual MakerCamp, one of the many hallmarks of the library's mission to engage young minds through hands-on experiences.
Alex Caliva, the tech administrator for the camps, oversaw the work of the campers, who were soldering copper wire, tiny coils and simple electric parts onto a small board, based on a diagram they were following. When complete, the transmitter would enable the children to broadcast radio signals from a transistor radio or an iPod. The week's four missions also included transmitting Morse code signals, and building their own rudimentary night vision camera.
“They're working their way up the level of complexity, and this is the most complicated of their projects,” Caliva said.
The spy theme for this year's MakerCamp was the result of a collaboration between Caliva, and library program coordinators Ivy Weir and Dan Pennacchia.
“Ivy, Dan and I sat down for coffee to hammer out everything we wanted to do for the summer, and we decided that the idea of introducing sky tools would make a good theme,” Caliva said. “Last year, we selected a robotic theme, which included junkyard wars robot battles using trash that I found. This year, we wanted to do slightly more advanced projects, and the spy theme gave us the opportunity to do a lot of interesting things.”
“We're learning all of the skills for criminal heists,” joked Jay Mehta of Kennett Square. “This satisfies my curiosity. We're learning a bunch of skills in a fun fashion, and I like that we're doing different things every day.”
Throughout the week, the campers got help from volunteers from Chatham Financial.
“Bob Jones, a manager in our testing department, has reached out to the library,” said Chatham Financial's Kevin Davis “I have kids the same age as a lot of these young people, so for me, it's an opportunity to take what I've learned here and bring it back to my kids, so that they can bring it to their schools.”
When Weir brought Pennacchia to the library from the Kennett Consolidated School District in 2014, his move was intended to serve as a bridge between the library and local schools and communities. With the collaboration of Weir, Pennacchia and executive director Donna Murray, the library has doubled its efforts to offer children and teenagers a full plate of events and activities. The library has been transformed from a book borrowing hub into a branch campus of the local school system.
This summer, the library has offered programs that have attracted youngsters from preschool to high school. For younger children, the library is offering a music camp for toddlers, a Young Rembrandts art class, a video game club, a science explorers camp, a Pokemon Club, a Junior MakerCamp, and a Pages & Panels camp, which allows young readers to explore storytelling by combining book discussions with creative projects.
In addition to the MakerCamp, students from grades 6 to 12 can join a Geek Gang comic group, belong to a coding club that enhances computer skills, or belong to a graphic novel book club.
“When Alex and I talked about some of these programs two years ago, we agreed that there's something  that happens to kids where at some point, they say, 'I don't want to go to school. I'd rather stay home and watch television and play video games,'” Pennacchia said. “There's something about school that begins to feel like tedious work to them, where there is less emphasis on curiosity and exploration.
“Yet, we were beginning to get as many as 30 children to come in on their free time and spend it here at the library. We began to ask ourselves, 'Why are 30 kids choosing to come in to the Kennett Public Library and explore these workshops, that are basically like school, when they could be home?'  We began to realize that it was because of the element that allowed the children to have hands-on access, where they learn on their own.”
To learn more about programs for children and young adults at the Kennett Public Library, visit
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail


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