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Summer Scholars program pushes students to excel

Students use chopsticks to pluck dried beans out of a cup in a timed exercise designed to simulate fishing in a pond to feed their village. The exercise is meant to illustrate principals of sustainability and governance.

From writing their own poetry to testing water quality, some 75 rising ninth-graders are finding subjects that spark their interest during the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Summer Scholars Institute.

The institute is a three-year academic enrichment program for rising seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders from Gainesville, Hall and Habersham school systems. Held at UNG's Gainesville Campus, the summer program blends a number of subjects into two main units: one in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and a second focusing on language arts and social studies. All curriculum meets Georgia standards for each subject area. The program seeks promising students from under-represented populations like potential first-generation college students, English-language learners and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

"Society tends to look at their challenges and barriers, but the very fact that they are in Summer Scholars shows they have something going for them," said Dr. Harriett Allison, Summer Scholars director and director of the English as a second language (ESL) program at UNG. "If we can capitalize and focus on that, then we really can help them accomplish something."

Ed Cabell started the Summer Scholars Institute, which now is in its 26th year. The four-week program also incorporates field trips like a recent day on Lake Lanier that was held in partnership with the Elachee Nature Science Center. Students learned about water quality and water treatment processes and conducted their own testing. The program also allows instructors to spend more time on topics that may be more difficult to grasp and use more hands-on and group activities.

Allison said as the program continues forward, she plans to collect data and track the students' success — both analytical data regarding grades and attendance rates and subjective data through surveys geared toward examining students' attitudes about school.

"Ideally, we want to have a mixture of students because we also focus on having them working together in groups," Allison said. "In addition to helping them with subjects they made need help with from their middle-school courses, we also want to teach them about higher education and prepare them to go out and work in the real world."

Allison said helping students stay in school and further their education benefits the entire community, something that area groups have recognized through monetary support. The United Way of Hall County has supported Summer Scholars for more than 10 years and gave the program a $5,600 grant this year. The program also received a $15,000 grant from the Jackson EMC Foundation, funded by the contributions of the cooperative's members through the Round Up program.

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