Accustomed to earning gold stars in the classroom, the soon-to-be fourth graders of Panther Valley Elementary School spent the week learning about actual stars in the school's "Blast off to Science Camp" summer program.

"Blast off to Science" was this year's theme for the annual summer science camp held at the elementary school. The camp takes place 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Monday through Friday, for one week and is funded by the Panther Valley Foundation.

Under the direction of third grade teacher, Amber Forester, and fourth grade teacher, Melinda Penberth, roughly 36 students entering the fourth grade started studying different aspects of the solar system this past Monday.

"It's nice because it gives them an opportunity in the summer to interact with their peers," said Penberth. Adding, "They're having a great time. Some of them are doing extra projects at home for us to hang up."

Penberth said the program helps the students prepare for the science PSSA's they will take during the following school year. Forester added the students seem to enjoy working as teams and appear to have a real interest in the solar system.

On Tuesday, the students constructed planets out of balloons and papier-mâché. After the papier-mâché had dried, the students painted and decorated their planets.

While adding a blue ring of paint to her planet on Thursday, student Ashley Scheitrum said she has been having fun and had learned that the moon is getting smaller. Scheitrum's favorite planet is Saturn which she pointed out was hanging from the ceiling above a nearby table in the classroom.

Student Krya Rusnak learned about gas giants, the sun and the thousands of stars in space all of which she spoke excitedly about as she held down her blue balloon planet with paint-covered fingers.

On Friday, the students learned about astronauts and "real space and fake space," said Forester, explaining that fake space refers to fictional elements such as aliens and their spaceships.

The program is finished for the summer but will be held next year. Students wishing to participate must sign up during the school year. The program is free. Transportation is not provided.