Educational camps offer great variety for Houston students

jmink@macon.comJune 14, 2013 

KATHLEEN -- Sujung Heurter never imagined doing this at summer camp.

Then again, many students do not spend their summers building rockets and dissecting cow eyeballs. But that’s exactly how some Houston County children have spent their first couple weeks of summer break.

They made soy ice cream, decorated cakes, created accessories from duct tape, built homemade lava lamps and directed movies. Anthony Baker spent two weeks practicing the guitar and building robots.

“It feels like it’s not school,” said Anthony, 11, a sixth-grader at Northside Middle School. “You’re learning, but you don’t realize it.”

That is the goal of many summer camps across the area. In Houston County, a couple of summer camps wrapped up Thursday and Friday after giving students fun lessons away from the ordinary classroom.

At Tucker Elementary School, four teachers developed an idea for a technology camp, teaching students to create items from brochures to movies.

At Mossy Creek Middle School, more than 430 gifted students participated in this year’s summer enhancement camp, where they tackled topics from golf to Greek mythology.

“If they’re high-achieving, naturally they like challenge. They like work, and they like to be engaged,” said Jan Jacobsen, district director of gifted education.

For decades, high-achieving students have applied for the program, which is open to rising fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders. They spend 10 days in their choice of classes, which take them from museums to farms.

While the program has been offered for the past 40 years, classes are continually evolving. This year, new courses included duct tape crafts, CrossFit physical education, humanities and agriculture. Dennis Peavy, a fourth-grade teacher of gifted students at Lake Joy Elementary School, wanted to offer an agriculture program after realizing how many students do not know where their food comes from. In his course, 20 students sprouted seeds in plastic gloves, built their own worm bins, made agriculture robots out of cardboard and clothes hangers and took a field trip to a farm.

“Most of these kids had never seen a hen lay an egg,” Peavy said.

And many students had never built and launched their own rockets, a task they completed in Matt Yawn’s class. Yawn, who teaches gifted students at Northside Middle School, purchased rocket kits with the most basic materials, forcing children to be as creative as possible.

“They had to glue every part of it together,” he said. “They were in complete control.”

At Tucker Elementary School, students were in control as they wrote, filmed and edited their own movies using an iPad. It was one project teachers wanted to complete when they developed the school’s first technology camp.

“We wanted to give our students a leg up,” said Stephanie Wilson, a fourth-grade gifted teacher. “We’re able to really put (technology) in their hands.”

For 10-year-old Seth Lee, the camp not only boosted his technology skills, but it also tied into his career goals. The fifth-grader wants to be a film director when he grows up.

“I really like (the camp) because you get a chance to open yourself up to more technology,” he said.

Nine-year-old Halle Green agreed that making iPad movies was much better than the average summer break.

“It’s better than sitting at home all day doing nothing,” the fourth-grader said.

For 12-year-old Sujung eating bugs trumped staying at home. Her favorite part of the gifted camp at Mossy Creek was the bug class, where she munched chocolate-covered crickets.

“It was actually good once you got past the crunch,” said the seventh-grader from Bonaire Middle School.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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