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Summer Scholars Institute to enhance learning during summer

2018-06-04-SummerScholars-1
About 70 children will learn about two categories —Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and language arts and social studies — during an intensive four-week program from June 4-28 at UNG's Gainesville Campus. The program, called Summer Scholars Institute, is a free, three-year program that targets middle and high school students who "aren't starting school with the same advantages," said Harriett Allison, associate professor of English as a Second Language (ESL) and director of ESL and Summer Programs.

To some, building a paper airplane is child's play. To the 70 children enrolled in this year’s Summer Scholars Institute (SSI) at the University of North Georgia (UNG), it's a science project.

"In one exercise, the students design the paper airplanes for accuracy and distance," said Harriett Allison, associate professor of English as a Second Language (ESL) and director of ESL and Summer Programs. Two of those programs are SSI and Steps-to-College (S2C) summer enrichment and for-credit program.

Once the rising eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders complete a task, they are asked to explain their process in general terms and then in scientific terms, Allison said. This technique of using a hands-on project to teach students is a major part of the focus of SSI.

"This is not a lecture-based program," Allison said. "The curriculum is designed to engage students in problem-solving skills."

The free, three-year program targets middle and high school students who "aren't starting school with the same advantages," Allison said. "We select students who are considered 'at-promise.'"

Students selected for the program are recommended by their schools' teachers and counselors in Hall and Habersham counties and Gainesville City Schools. To be selected, students must qualify for one of the following: be eligible for free- and reduced-priced lunches or be under-represented in the college demographic. Allison also talks to the students and their parents to explain the program, activities and requirements.

"They have to make a three-year commitment to this program," she said, adding the students must maintain a certain GPA and have good conduct reports during the school year to remain in the program.

Once they are admitted, students learn about two categories —Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and language arts and social studies — during an intensive four-week program from June 4-28 at UNG's Gainesville Campus. At the program's conclusion, students present their "passion projects," on Expo Day to family, friends and UNG staff. Their presentations include brief summaries of their research with illustrations followed by a question-and-answer session.

Allison said examples of previous passion projects have included a presentation on neurosurgery, a project detailing the musical scale system and the evolution of cosmetics for African-American women.

"We want them to take the material they have been exposed to and relate it to life outside the school house door," she said.

The program is funded in part through a $15,000 grant from Jackson EMC Foundation and other fundraising activities. To donate, contact Allison at 678-717-3419 or harriett.allison@ung.edu.

Students are helped with their projects by the program's six instructors and six teaching assistants, such as UNG junior Yadira Hernandez.

"You have more one-on-one time with the students than you normally receive in a regular classroom," Hernandez said. "You have time to help the students really understand the material."

Having a better grasp of the STEM and arts and social studies curriculum benefits the students in the long run, Hernandez said. And she would know. The teacher education major from Gainesville, Georgia, attended the program when she was in middle school.

"It was an amazing experience for me," she said. "It was fun and challenging and made me more confident in school."

Another critical element is exposing students to higher education, which it did for Hernandez. She said SSI introduced her to UNG, which she was unfamiliar with despite living in Gainesville. She admitted that being on the Gainesville Campus for three summers cemented her plan of attending UNG.

As a teaching assistant with SSI last year, Hernandez has noticed a similar effect on students who may not have considered college.

"When they see other college students, they love it," Hernandez said.

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