A retired businessman’s $50,000 pledge is spurring a new effort at Kirkwood High School to get students pumped up about science.

The donation is funding four new summer camps that will give students from sixth grade on up a chance to work with state-of-the-art equipment in the high school’s Earl and Myrtle Walker Science Building, which opened in 2007.

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The pledge comes from Blanton Whitmire, the retired owner of a chemical company. The Glendale resident, whose two children graduated from Kirkwood High School, said he wanted to immerse students in science and engineering at an early age.

Whitmire previously donated $100,000 to help equip the Walker science center with “real-world” equipment that most high school – and even college – students don’t get a chance to use, said John Mackin, KHS science department chairman.

“We’re really excited about it,” Mackin said, adding that administrators hoped to expand the summer camp program in the future. “We’re anxious to see what the turnout will be.”

Mackin and other science and engineering teachers laid out their summer camp plans for Whitmire on Thursday. The four-day camps will focus on topics such as robotics, astronomy and forensic science. The camps run from May 29 to June 7 (see PDF for details).

They also gave Whitmire an update on the status of a second $100,000 donation he gave to support collaboration between the science departments at KHS and Joplin High School, which was destroyed by a tornado last May.

The money will be used to provide Joplin High School with similar state-of-the-art science equipment and help Kirkwood teachers train the Joplin teachers.

Mackin and others are headed to Joplin next week to meet with Joplin educators as work begins on rebuilding the high school there. He said Whitmire’s vision was for each school’s science department to become a resource for students throughout the region.

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