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West Jordan Journal

Teens make magic at library’s ‘Harry Potter’ camp

Aug 07, 2019 11:23AM ● By Alison Brimley

An amusing muggle train conductor invites teens to board the train to Hogwarts at the library’s OWL Camp. (Alison Brimley/City Journals)

By Alison Brimley | [email protected]

Ever since “Harry Potter” made its debut, muggle children around the globe have watched their 11th birthdays come and go, secretly hoping that they’d receive their Hogwarts acceptance letter by owl post. For those who are still waiting to enroll at the magical boarding school, the county library’s OWL Camp was the next best thing.

OWL Camp took place this year at the Library’s Viridian Events Center from June 24 through June 28. Each day, a new crop of Hogwarts hopefuls arrived at Platform 9 ¾ to be greeted by a bantering muggle train conductor. From there, students were ushered indoors, where the Sorting Hat placed them in one of four Hogwarts houses. The Events Center was convincingly disguised as the famous castle, complete with an enormous dragon statue and detailed costumes supplied by HRW Creations.  

The purpose of the event, now in its third year, is to “provide a free, inclusive, STEAM-based summer camp for youth ages 11 to 18,” said library program manager Nyssa Fleig. Throughout the day, children attend STEAM-focused classes (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with a magical twist. Real-world subjects are matched with fantastical counterparts, as visitors from Utah’s Hogle Zoo teach Care of Magical Creatures, the Natural History Museum of Utah and Red Butte Garden cover Herbology, and many more. 

The camp is organized so that a different age group attends each day, starting with 11-year-olds on Monday and ending with 17- and 18-year-olds on Saturday. Registration began in March, and all you need to be accepted is a library card. 

Library manager Matt McLain — convincingly disguised as Professor Dumbledore — explained that the challenges faced by the books’ characters in each year of their schooling are reflected in the curriculum for each day of OWL camp. First-year students face challenges like those found in the first “Harry Potter” book, while the oldest attendees experience events in the final book of the series. This allows the faculty to tailor their teaching to different age groups and gives students an opportunity to return year after year, experiencing something new each time. 

Aspiring witches Kylie and Juliet, both 14, attended OWL Camp last year and were eager to return this year. Their favorite class was Potions, taught by faculty at the University of Utah’s College of Pharmacology, where they learned to make their own lip balm. 

Pharmacology faculty member Jim Ruble said the skills the students learn in his Potions class are “a type of a dosing formulation that compounding pharmacists routinely make all the time” (though at OWL camp, they don’t use medication). In past years, students have been thrilled by the self-stirring beakers in the Potions classroom. After all, as writer Arthur Clarke’s 3rd Law states, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 

In the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Clark Planetarium helps young witches and wizards become familiar with “Muggle technology.” Students make Lego Mindstorms robots drive around autonomously, attaching a sensor to the robot and programming the sensor to avoid obstacles. Teachers in this classroom adapt their teaching to the ages of each group, while younger teens are given more instruction, older ones are given more freedom to figure things out on their own.   

But OWL Camp’s curriculum doesn’t stop at STEAM education. Fleig explained that the event also aims to teach social and emotional skills. Salt Lake County Youth Services teaches a class in coping skills and anti-bullying tactics (“charms”) and attendees are given time to interact and socialize in a “Common Room.” In follow-up surveys, students routinely rate Common Room as their favorite activity of the day. 

In this goal as well as others, OWL Camp seems to have hit upon a magic formula. 

“One of the biggest pieces of feedback we get every year from parents is, ‘My child was super nervous about coming—they’re very shy, they’re very anxious, they didn’t know anybody, and they left your camp with a new friend,” Fleig said.