What I Learned at NFB Youth Slam

Camryn smiles while working on a motorized bird as part of the installation art project.

What I Learned at NFB Youth Slam

I am Camryn Gattuso, fifteen years old, and a sophomore at Tuslaw High School in Massillon, Ohio. I have been totally blind since birth and have been educated in a typical public school. I have attended Space Camp® in Alabama for three years in a row, and after receiving my Advanced Space Academy® Wings I wanted to try a different STEM camp. I applied to the STEM program put on by the National Federation of the Blind and was picked to attend.

This is what I did while attending the 2017 NFB Youth Slam. My parents and I drove to Baltimore, Maryland, where I was dropped off at Towson University to start my week at Youth Slam with the sixty other students from the USA. After registration we followed our program marshals to the dining hall and had lunch together. After lunch, we had an activity that was supposed to get us acquainted with each other. The object was to blow up a balloon and see whose would pop first. Then an instructor told us the rules for the week and what would happen if we didn’t follow them. After that I went to my room and met my roommate, Marley, from Utah.

The next day after an early breakfast, I went to my first class, Installation Art. Our instructor’s name was Ann, and she told us that we would be working all week to make an exhibit to show at the conclusion of Youth Slam. We would also be going to White Marsh wetlands the next day to collect random items or ideas that we could use in our project. During the first day we spent over two hours learning where all the tools and the other necessary items for our project would be kept. I figured I would use a motor in my project and was shown the three types of motors they had available. The one I was particularly fascinated by was the 180 motor, which when connected to a controller box, moved back and forth similar to the way a bird flaps its wings.

After we were dismissed from Installation Art, we had some free time before the evening program of Karaoke. At this session I sang two Disney songs, “Beauty and The Beast” and “Let It Go”. Then we went back to the dorm room, and I was fascinated at the Cozmo robot that my roommate brought with her from home.

The next day I continued with my project in Installation Art. My class then boarded a bus to White Marsh wetlands in the afternoon. We were supposed to listen and tell the people in charge how many different bird calls we heard, which was really fun. We were then given a project to identify by feel whether the plants in that area were living or dead. Then we put on rubber boots and went into the water and tried to catch random aquatic lifeforms with a net. Next a forest ranger took us on a nature walk along a wooden boardwalk where we were told about different plants native to the area. We then returned to the university for more afternoon session work.

My next day session was the Chemistry of Cooking, where we learned how to prepare food items. Later that day we had a jam session. I played songs on the piano and listened to others as they performed their talents.

The following day I continued Installation Art, and I came up with the brilliant plan of making a bird with flapping wings using the 180 motor. I learned how to use a hot glue gun in creating my project. I made the head out of foam, body from piece of cardboard, and the beak out of a triangular-shaped piece of paper. After making sure everybody’s projects worked, we set up our exhibits that would be display at the end of the week. Later that day, I went to a session called Hot Stuff, where I learned how to solder wires together or to a terminal.

That night there was an outdoor carnival set up for us, and we had hot dogs and cotton candy. The funniest thing that happened that night was when I was sitting on the concrete outside, this kid walked up to me and asked, “What is this?”

I raised my head and yelled, “You know full well what it is. It’s a person!” I was surprised that he didn’t know that I was the person sitting there.

The next day, I did some finishing items for my Installation Art project. The afternoon session that day was 3D Printing the Stars, where we all got to feel 3D models of stars and other things. The evening session was yoga. We got to make essential oils, and then we learned different yoga positions. There was relaxing music in the background, which sounded good and calming.

The final day was when everyone got to see what their peers had learned to make. Everyone was fascinated by my bird project, and I was most fascinated by the computer science projects where the kids programed audio games on computers. This required knowledge of JAWS to play the games. In the afternoon, we went to the NFB Jernigan Institute, where I listened to presentations on the college application process. Then we finished up with a block party in the garage at the NFB Jernigan Institute. This consisted of a dance and food for us and was the conclusion of a fun-filled and educational week-long program.

I’m looking forward to possibly attending another Youth Slam if chosen to participate again.