Summer program helps expand students' ideas about school

Summer program teaches students about space

In summer, when school is out and the weather is right for riding bikes or playing with friends, Joshua Holmes, 8, is in a classroom.

This time of year, though, there is no trouble getting him out of bed for school.

Throughout June, Joshua has reported to W.S. Hornsby K-8 School for Spanish lessons, art projects and science experiments with 100 of his peers for a Richmond County School System summer program aimed at broadening students’ horizons.

“I’d probably be at home doing nothing being bored if I wasn’t here now,” Joshua said.

The Interdisciplinary Enrichment Academy is a four-week summer school program ending June 29 that blends core subjects such as science and mathematics around a cultural theme. After IDEA debuted last year with a Leonardo da Vinci theme, students this year focused their studies on outer space.

Academy administrators accepted about 600 elementary and middle school students based on test scores and reading levels and assigned them to one of four designated IDEA school sites, according to Stacy Mabray, the interim senior director of curriculum and instruction.

The mornings start at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast and then a meeting at which students talk about their feelings and what they did the day before.

At Hornsby on Wednesday, the halls were lined with cardboard boxes painted as spaceships and the walls were plastered with solar systems drawn to scale in colored pencils and crayons.

In art class, pupils learned about orbiting bodies by studying the works of American artist and sculptor Alexander Calder. They pondered what it would take to build a community in space – hospitals, houses and vehicles – and built the structures out of straws and cardboard, said art teacher Ding Denlinger.

In social studies, pupils learned about the history of flight in a lecture about Wilbur and Orville Wright, then went outside to build a hot-air balloon out of paper bags.

At the beginning of the program, the pupils gathered in the lunch room (fittingly renamed the Launch Room) to Skype chat with NASA astronaut Nicole Stott.

“She told us space food is pretty good these days,” Denlinger said.

Funded by $250,000 of the district’s 21st Century Community Learning Center and Title I grants, the program is free to pupils and their families, including transportation that picks students up and drops them home at their doorsteps, Mabray said.

“I really feel like they get from this experience an awareness of how school really is a creative dynamic for everything to fit together,” Mabray said.

“Traditionally in school, we do the separate disciplines – math, then science, depending on your schedule – but with this they’re seeing this whole big thing unfold together,” she added.

Hornsby lead teacher Carl Benton Robinson III said the program is a chance for students to meet peers from other schools and learn by doing. Most lessons have a blend of the core subjects and incorporate art, which expands how students process learning, he said.

“They have the classroom experience being with other students and teachers, but they’re encouraged to step outside the box,” Robinson said.

The summer program is also a chance for teachers to learn and grow. Robinson and about 10 other IDEA teachers are part of the school system’s Aspiring Leaders Academy, which helps train teachers who want to move to administrative positions.

During the school year, Robinson is a physical education teacher at Diamond Lakes Elementary School, but as Hornsby’s lead IDEA teacher, he acts as principal by heading the staff and planning schedules.

“You can think of this as an experiment, and it’s working,” Robinson said.

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