More than 500 Houston youngsters take part in summer enhancement

alopez@macon.comJune 9, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- About a dozen elementary school students last week explored the properties of a non-Newtonian liquid -- in this case corn starch mixed with water.

The students dipped their hands in the slimy mixture for several minutes before science teacher Angie Herbel asked them to share their observations.

“When there is pressure added, it acts like a solid, and when you release the pressure it acts like a liquid,” rising fourth-grader Veronica Jacobsen said, providing a near textbook answer.

The class, dubbed “Fizz, Float and Fly!,” is one of more than 40 classes offered as part of the Houston County school district’s summer enhancement program, a two-week day camp designed for gifted and talented students enrolled next fall in third- through seventh-grade. Hosted at Mossy Creek Middle School, the camp wraps up this week.

The county program has a 40-year history, and about 535 students -- the most ever -- are participating this summer, said Jan Jacobsen, director of gifted programs. Tuition cost parents $170.

Classes include archery, Crossfit, drama and Egyptology, with curricula limited only by the imagination of program instructors.

“It’s just a great opportunity for kids and for teachers to not have any boundaries,” said Superintendent Mark Scott.

The campers are not the only ones benefitting from the program. Houston County teachers who conduct classes earn required hours toward their gifted certification, and a few selected district high school students earn experience working with children and a paycheck. Mercer University students also help out at the camp, but they are unpaid.

In one classroom last week, campers manipulated computer code to create their own interactive media. They used a free computer language primarily developed for 8- to 16-year-olds by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. University experts actually recommend children start coding as early as kindergarten, said Joshua LeBorious, the class instructor.

LeBorious, of Houston County High School’s class of 2013, was one of two recent graduates participating in summer enhancement as instructors.

“I teach the kids computer programming, which includes the code, and also includes a lot of the fundamentals that computer scientists have to know, whether it be problem-solving or teamwork,” he said.

A secondary education and mathematics double-major at Vanderbilt University, LeBorious said he challenged his campers to debug a program he intentionally created with errors.

“These kids were coming up with solutions more elegant than I even thought existed,” he said.

Hailey Tayag, who will be a fifth-grader at Bonaire Elementary School in the fall, worked on a program that would allow a user to replicate an image on a map with the click of a mouse.

“I like to see what I can do in the virtual world,” Hailey said. “When it comes to computing, you can do so much stuff that you didn’t even know you could do.”

For Jan Jacobsen, the camp’s success stems from helping children tap into and develop in their areas of interest.

“This is the power of choice, because they get to choose the classes they are in,” Jacobsen said. “We’re matching a teacher with a passion with the kids with the passion.”

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