PARK HILLS – They’re solving crimes, building bridges and making crafts that hover above the ground. They’re doing a little genetic engineering to create creatures made of Styrofoam and pipe cleaners. They’re applying math to figure batting averages and the square feet to lay down a hardwood floor. They’re studying what makes a good advertisement and what makes good music. And in the process, they’re putting into practice some of what they’ve learned in school.
These are the students of Scholars Academy at Mineral Area College, a select group of 252 kids from public and parochial schools in Farmington, Fredericktown, North County, Central and Ste. Genevieve. Each school district has its own way of selecting the students who are invited to attend. They’re going into 5th through 9th grades in the fall. One thing they all have in common is good grades and an interest in learning.
“A lot of these students do extremely well in school, but have never been challenged to reach their potential,” said Claudette Roper, director of Scholars Academy. She is director of the Telecommunication Community Resource Center at MAC which oversees the program. “You see kids doing things in school, but they don’t know how they’ll use what they’re learning in life. The goal of Scholars Academy is to show these students how to use what they’ve learned in a practical way.”
Zachary Fletcher, Farmington, is learning about forensics.
“You get to look at stuff through microscopes and we get to solve crimes about terrorism and drugs,” the 6th grader said enthusiastically.
It’s a little like the TV show, “CSI.”
In a study of human science, Farmington 6th grader Kyle Roberts learned about traits.
“We flipped a coin and heads were for a big letter – a dominant trait – and tails were for a little letter – a recessive trait,” he explained. “Then that told us whether we got brown eyes or blue eyes and stuff like that. Then we drew a picture of the creature we created.”
Olivia Meek, Fredericktown and Kayla Morgan, Bloomsdale, agreed the things they’re doing at Scholars Academy are unlike anything they’ve done in school.
“We’re setting fire to chemicals and watching the flames change colors,” said Morgan.
“Different chemicals give off different colors,” added Meek.
“The different colors stand for different levels of energy,” said Collin Black, Bonne Terre.
Andrea Elliott, Bonne Terre, said she won’t forget the way they learned the colors of the rainbow.
“We learned ‘ROY G. BIV,’ which stands for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.”
Working with Bunsen burners, Felicia Boyster, Bonne Terre, said she’s already learned you “never wear your hair down when you’re messing with fire.”
Haley Franklin, Farmington, emphatically corrected her, “It’s not messing with fire, it’s working with fire!”
Shelby Mund, Bonne Terre, said she liked the small number of classes that last longer than usual because, “you can study more about a certain subject.”
MAC geology and earth instructor Brian Scheidt said he’s amazed by his young students’ excitement and energy.
“They have a real willingness to learn,” he said as he showed off the hover craft he made using a leaf blower, wooden disk, tarp and lots and lots of duck tape. The students made their own smaller versions.
“It was hard because you have make the air cushion go to the bottom,” explained Morgan Knott, Farmington 5th grader.
Down the hall, soon-to-be 8th graders learn about bridge construction.
“We each had to make a bridge sturdy enough to hold something up,” explained Lindsay Spraul, Ste. Genevieve. “You have to criss-cross the boards instead of having them go straight up.”
Central High School teacher Bryan Wallen is spending his fifth year teaching the scholars.
“These are really good kids and they’re all like sponges wanting to learn,” he said. “With the bridges, we’re looking at the angles of the lattice work on the sides and the cost efficiency. We’ll learn about the engineering aspect of how to design using computer aided graphics.”
“I like the fact there are no grades and that makes it not so serious,” said Alex Flieg, Ste. Genevieve.
Between classes, the students walk the college campus as if they belong there.
“It’s fun, but I can get lost, too,” said Elizabeth Gilliam, Farmington.
In the fine arts building, Emily Kraenzle, Ste. Genevieve, shows off a product of her own creation and recites a commercial she’s written to entice her classmates.
Next door, 7th grader Rebecca Huff, Farmington, plays piano in a class where she’s been learning more about music. Teacher Cheryl Schmidt is impressed.
“This is a very talented group of students,” she said. She has taught them how to use everyday items as musical instruments. They’ve made music with egg beaters, vegetable steamers and even coconuts.
Austin Marler, Bonne Terre likes the time spent outside playing soccer, baseball, volleyball or football.
When it’s all over June 24, there will be a graduation ceremony during which parents will see what their children have been doing.
Courtney Coulter, Bonne Terre, confessed, “I didn’t expect it to be fun, but it is!”
Roper said it’s the first time for some of the students to see what a college environment is like.
“This lets them see what they can look forward to if they go to college,” she said. “And since we’re a part of the community, it’s good for them to know what happens here.”
It’s the sixth year for the Academy at MAC. The program is free for the students. School districts pay the fees.
Of course, these students aren’t so different from any others to be found at summer school around the Parkland this month. During a lunch break, there was that one table of boys who said the best thing about the academy wasn’t so much the classes as the “girls, lunch, and recess.”