Michael Lapointe stood hunched over a computer where four youngsters were electronically composing a song. Lapointe, who will be a junior at Montclair State University in September, was instructing the group of middle-school students attending this summer's Community House computer camp in the finer points of computerized music.
"You already have a kick going on," said Lapointe, referring to the steady drumbeat the group had created. "Use another sound."
Eight years ago, Lapointe was a student himself at the same camp, getting his first introduction to computers.
"I didn't know anything about computers," said Lapointe, a Hamilton native who attended the camp for four summers and returned for the first time this summer as a teacher. "We learned how to design a computer game, and I loved it. I forced my mom to buy me a computer, and I started playing with it."
Actually, he opened it and took it apart so he could understand how it worked.
Today Lapointe is majoring in information technology at Montclair State, where he fixes computers for the English department and tutors students in computers. He hopes to work full-time in the field of information technology after he graduates.
Lapointe learned about the camp from his father, Jacques Lapointe, who works in Princeton's building services department. Attending the camp that first summer sparked the young man's love of computers. "This started it all for me," he said.
"When we started the camp, that was one of our hopes -- to inspire someone," said Marjorie Young, the director of Community House. "Coming to camp helped Michael define his future career. He was passionate about computers, and being hands-on helped him make that decision."
Now Lapointe is helping students like 14-year-old Lido learn some of the things that computers can do. In addition to composing music on a computer, Lido helped produce a movie with a digital camera and learned how to design a website this summer. The 40 pupils at the camp, which ran for six weeks, are in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. They engaged in science, math, writing and Spanish enrichment activities in addition to their technology lessons.
"I liked computer class the best," said Lido, who lives in Princeton. "I learned the most stuff I hadn't learned before."
Lido also found the math and writing classes reinforced what he had studied during the school year, he said.
"Before, when I didn't go to camp, I would forget almost everything I learned in school (over the summer)," he said. "Now when I get back to school, I remember. And you don't have as much pressure here. You can do it at your own pace."
The camp's math classes highlight not just equations and rules, but why math is useful, said Eric Plummer, who taught geometry this summer at the camp.
"In school you tend to think you're just learning facts and figures," said Plummer, a member of Princeton's class of 2010 and one of five Princeton students and alumni who taught at the camp this summer. "I tried to make the students see how you can use it in life." In one class he disguised a lesson in geometric calculations by asking the pupils to figure out which fence would work better in a certain space, a triangular one or a square one.
Exposing the students to a range of subjects is a key element of the camp, Young said. "We want them to go back to school having practiced what they've learned. And with technology, we want students to be up to par, to be thinking about ways technology is important in their own lives and their future."
For Lapointe, seeing the youngsters get excited about computers is gratifying. For his pupils, seeing a former camper who is now a college student and a computer whiz is inspiring.
"The ultimate goal of the camp is to reach kids who will be inspired, as Michael was, to pursue careers in technology," Young said.