Local schoolchildren get about three months of summer vacation, but St. Louis’ Maxine Clark believes learning should not stop just because school lets out for the summer. To help St. Louis parents plan for their kids’ summer weeks, Clark recently founded an app and website called Blueprint4SummerSTL.
The app and website launched in February, and can be used to search for summer camps of all kinds in the area. Parents can search for summer camps based on preferences like age, gender, interests, price and zip code.
Clark, the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, has taken on this new endeavor after retiring from her CEO position at the company in 2013.
“I’ve spent the last 18 years with Build-A-Bear seeing how important smiles are to kids, and how important activities that they can do with their families or other children are,” she says.
During that time, Clark also was involved in urban public education. Many families don’t have access to the resources this app will provide, so Clark seeks to connect them with new possibilities within their budget.
“There are so many incredible things for kids to do in St. Louis,” Clark notes.
As a result, Clark and her team came up with a plan for the app and hired a firm to make it a reality. They found that there are more than 2,000 summer camp sessions in St. Louis, so they gathered the information into one place.
“It’s basically a virtual camp fair,” Clark says. “(This app has) been an incredible learning experience about what’s available in St. Louis for children.”
Feedback on the app has been great so far, Clark notes, with parents praising the way it pools resources. They’ve publicized it in schools, on billboard and buses, and a number of other outlets. “We’ve just had phenomenal feedback,” she says.
Many people using the app have never sent their children to a summer program outside of their church or immediate community. Since the app includes camps hosted at colleges like Fontbonne University, Washington University and Saint Louis University, it gives the children the chance to get on a college campus at a young age.
“Then, when they’re ready to go to college, they understand more of what (college) is,” Clark explains. Clark and her team have big hopes for the future of Blueprint4SummerSTL.
“We hope that parents who have never sent their kids to camp find this app and start doing that,” she says. “Summer is a really important time for children. If you’re not doing something constructive, you can lose a lot of learning.”
Their plan is to use the structure of the app as a database for other projects and ideas, like the possibility of a “Blueprint4SpecialEducation” or “Blueprint4Music” in the future. Right now, the app only is available for the St. Louis area, but Clark and her team have plans to give the app away to other cities so they can start implementing it, too.
“We’ve already had a lot of calls from parents wanting it in their city next year,” Clark says. “We do plan to work with our community partners to distribute it to other cities.”
The most rewarding parts of this project are two-fold, Clark says.
“The camps in this area are so wonderful, but they have very limited budgets for advertising.” And being able to help get the word out for these camps has been one of her favorite parts of the process. “The other part is the parents who have said they would never have been able to navigate the system without (the app),” she says. “We’re so excited to make their lives easier.”