Summer program offers different opportunities

KATHLEEN -- About 500 Houston County students are in a type of summer school at Mossy Creek Middle School, but instead of retaking courses, they’re learning things they may never study during the school year.

The Summer Enhancement program has been running for 40 years now, with students getting opportunities in fields from cooking to computer programming.

“It’s enrichment camp for our gifted and talented students,” said Jan Jacobsen, Houston County’s director of gifted education.

Some of the courses, such as archery, have been part of the repertoire for the program’s entire 40-year existence. The course, taught by Sid Swartz, has always been popular, but Jacobsen said she thinks it’s gotten a recent push from the “Hunger Games” series.

“Every year, archery fills up the fastest,” she said. “It’s an attraction because it’s uncommon.”

The students in the archery class started work Monday, and most of them weren’t very skilled yet. By Friday, they were able to hit targets about 25 yards away.

“We learn as we do it, and they’ve done pretty well,” Swartz said.

The chance to choose two classes for the two-week session that aren’t a part of conventional education is a major draw, said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Payne participated in Summer Enhancement when he was a student, as did his 16-year-old son, Noah.

“It’s just a great way for kids to experience learning in a fun, engaging way,” he said. “This way, they actually get to pick a topic like Egyptology.”

While studying the history of pyramids, pharaohs and other Egyptian traditions might not seem like something students would choose to do over the summer, Payne said it was a popular choice.

“It was slam full,” he said. “I went in there the other day; there wasn’t an empty chair in the room.”

Another popular class is a new option called Game Design with STEM. Meant to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts, the class allows students to play and design their own games. To incorporate the scientific method, they also evaluate games designed by classmates and try to resolve issues they discover.

“It’s the whole STEM process,” teacher Brian Lewis said.

Jordan McLaughlin, 9, took Lewis’ class as well as iPad-Alooza, a course designed to show kids how to make videos and other projects on a tablet. McLaughlin enjoyed the opportunity to make his own games and try them out.

“My mom said I should try it out, and I tried it out and I think it’s pretty fun,” he said.

Regardless of the class, Jacobsen said the goal is for students to have the “best day ever” each day.

For the most part, the feedback is evident when the students are picked up at the end of the day.

“Even before the (car) door is shut, they’re talking about how awesome it was,” she said. “It’s deeply embedded, that cool factor, that ‘wow’ factor. ... We should be doing this all the time.”

The program will continue through Friday with an open house and showcase set for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Each class will be showing off the fruits of their labor, including a production of “Lion King Jr.” by the drama class.

Many of the props and costumes for the play were made by students in the Warner Robins High and Northside High drama programs, and the class is led by Richard Frazier and Nick Sostillo.

Even though it’s summer break, Sostillo said he’s been impressed with his students’ commitment to the program and willingness to work on their parts at home.

“That’s one thing that we’ve noticed is they’re very dedicated,” he said.

The public is invited to attend the open house, with the play set to begin about 7:15 p.m.