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Kids select from straws, clothespins, tongue depressors and wood blocks for the unconventional building challenge Thursday at the third annual Stepping Up for Summer Learning event at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline.

MOLINE — Stomp rockets flew through the air, photos were snapped on the red carpet and free books flew off tables at the third annual Stepping Up for Summer Learning event Thursday.

More than 1,000 students, educators, counselors and volunteers from across the Illinois and Iowa Quad-Cities gathered for the celebration of summer learning. The event is sponsored by Deere & Co. and supported by 30 partner organizations.

Kids in a kaleidoscope of T-shirt colors filled the stands of the TaxSlayer Center to kick off the day by grooving to music from the River Music Experience Band. There were bright yellow “Happy Camper” Spring Forward shirts, fuchsia and blue tie-dyed Y Camp shirts, bright blue Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley shirts and orange Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center shirts. Other participating camps included The Salvation Army, Skip-A-Long, Camp Excel and Camp Re-Imagine.

Dan McNeil, executive director of Spring Forward, said all of the camps participating at Thursday’s event were summer-long camps with academic components aimed at preventing students from falling behind while school was out.

As one example, McNeil said, Spring Forward ensures campers spend time reading at least three days per week for 45 minutes per day. The results, he said, is data that shows 90% of kids who start and finish the camp increase or maintain their reading skills over the summer. Spring Forward’s summer program serves 300 Rock Island and Milan students at six elementary locations.

“It’s a great one-day celebration, celebrating all the work kids and staff have done the entire summer,” McNeil said. “I know that’s the way Deere feels about it. The goal is to raise awareness of summer learning.”

McNeil said Deere’s sponsorship of the event included busing students from various campsites and providing them with Hungry Hobo lunches. In addition to event funding, Deere employees volunteered to help lead activities. McNeil said many of the volunteers returned year after year and reported that it was a favorite event to donate their time.

Among the many volunteers Thursday included Deere employees Kollin Moore, who helped kids build electrical circuits, and Devin Becktell, who helped students select items from a table scattered with straws, clothespins, tongue depressors and woodblocks.

“It’s the unconventional building challenge,” Becktell said. “It’s whatever they want to make out of unconventional materials. See what they can make given the materials they have.”

McNeil said it was remarkable to have so many partners contributing to make it a successful event for Quad-Cities youth. As just a few examples, campers could check out a blue-tongued skink at the Niabi Zoo booth, hear and feel the vibrations of a bassoon at the Quad City Symphony Orchestra station and hit hockey pucks into a goal set up by the Quad City Storm.

From advance planning to providing volunteers the day of the event, McNeil said so many organizations have banded together to create a trend of enhanced summer learning in the Quad-Cities. McNeil said the event helped all of the organizations work together. He said they shared data and ensured summer hours were getting put to good use for QC kids.

“I think we all raise our game together,” he said.

Enjoying the activities Thursday was 11-year-old Mercedes Mora, who built a 25 1/2-inch structure in the tallest tower challenge. Kids were allowed only two pieces of paper and tape for their construction.

“I think I could’ve done something else, but this was the simplest,” Mora said.

Mora, a summer camper with the Boys and Girls Club, said at camp she had had program time, outside playtime, art, ga-ga ball and other experiences.

Faith Hardacre attended the event with campers from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. She said kids enjoyed coming to try the activities, and she said exposing students to new experiences was a priority of the center’s summer programming.

“It’s nice that all of these organizations get together and get kids to experience something outside of their bubble,” she said.

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