Willis attends gifted camp for African American youth

Willis attends gifted camp for African American youth


Philadelphia High School’s MaKenzie Willis joined other gifted students from across the state at last month’s African American Youth of Mississippi Excelling (AAYME) camp. 

The camp was hosted by the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) on the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus.

Willis, a straight-A student entering 10th grade, was interested in attending the camp after one of her eighth-grade teachers handed out applications. Although she couldn’t attend last year due to a staff shortage, the camp reached out again this year, allowing her to participate finally. The camp was held June 16 to June 21.

A typical day for campers began with breakfast in the lobby from 7:40 to 8:25, followed by the first class of the day, which lasted for an hour and 45 minutes. After a short break, students attended another class before having lunch. 

Post-lunch activities included discussions on African American history, a rest period, recreational time, and dinner. Evening activities featured “Argument Wars” before heading to bed. One day, campers also received CPR certification.

Willis said that her most memorable experience at camp was making new friends, such as meeting quintuplets from Columbia, Miss. 

“Since she’s been home, she’s been in good spirits, talking about all the new friends she met, and they’ve still been talking on the phone,” said her mother, Deshayla Willis. “I was worried because she’s never stayed away from home for a week without me. She didn’t call unless she wanted to, but I feel it’s preparing her for college.”

Her mother also noted that the camp has significantly helped her daughter understand the layout of the ACT and aim for the score she needs to graduate from high school.

AAYME is a STEM enrichment and personal development program for current seventh through ninth grade students. Its mission is to enhance the future of Mississippi by helping students achieve their full potential through personal, social, professional, and leadership development. 

The program aims to make students more competitive for scholarships and programs, build self-awareness and confidence, expose them to career opportunities in STEM, and develop personal and professional skills.

The camp offered a variety of courses, including “Picture It” for learning basic principles of digital photography, “Ace ACT Math” for strategies in tackling the ACT Math section, and “Count Like Katherine” for exploring the math of trajectories using Desmos and stomp rockets, inspired by Katherine Johnson.

It also featured courses like “Podcast Power” for learning the basics of podcasting, “No Experience Needed Coding” for programming with Sphero robots, “Forensic Science” for exploring real-world mysteries through biology and chemistry, “Engineer a Solution” for collaboratively solving real-world problems, and “Roll with It” for learning about probability through dice games.

Willis said her favorite classes to attend were “Picture It,” “Count Like Katerine,” and “Ace ACT Math,” as well as the African American history sessions. 

“The African American history sessions stood out to me because I like learning history as well,” she said. “Learning about the past history of African Americans excites me.”

Willis said she is deciding between attending the University of Alabama and Southern Mississippi for a career in either nursing or social work in the future. 

“I want to either go into nursing or I want to be a social worker,” she said. “I’m in between right now, but I’m leaning more towards nursing.”

Willis also plans to use the formulas from the ACT course to help with her upcoming test and future math classes and said she’s eager to explore what she can do with her new coding and electricity skills. 

“If you want to learn things that will help you in the future, I suggest you go to camp,” she said. “If you want to meet new people, if you like coding, electricity, math, and science, then you should just try it.”

“It was a lot of walking, but it was fun,” Willis exclaimed. 

“The camp helps students prepare for things in life that we didn’t get to do when we were coming up,” her mother added. “It’s a good camp with good advisors, especially Mrs. LaToya. She was awesome.”

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