Under big, shady trees and the airs of collegiate grandeur, the University of Northern Colorado’s Kepner Hall has been temporarily transformed into a summer camp for smart kids.
Children fill high-ceilinged classrooms, discussing concepts of truth or government through the guise of kid-friendly topics such as vampires and The Hunger Games. There are classes on robotics, writing, art, leadership, music, and peace and justice.
A small, skinny boy—about 8 years old—stands in the makeshift administrative office waiting for the nurse to tend to a bug bite. He has come to the Center for the Education and Study of Gifted, Talented, Creative Learners’ Summer Enrichment Program to take classes on genetically modified foods and the leadership of the Roman Empire. He traveled five hours from a small town in Wyoming for the second summer in a row to spend 10 days learning and hanging out with others like him. Even at a young age, he sees himself as different from the kids back home; here, the teachers and students understand him. He’ll collect phone numbers before he leaves, so he can keep in touch with his new friends.
Stuart Omdal, associate professor at the center, says most of the children who come to the summer enrichment program find an educational experience that is different from their schools back home. The kids choose classes around their interest areas, and teachers allow them to explore these topics in-depth. It’s meant to cater to high-ability, highly intelligent students by celebrating learning and the
“These kids come with a lot of information about some of these topics,” Omdal said. “We don’t try to give them more knowledge, but we want them to use their knowledge. …There is less emphasis on the acquisition of facts. It’s about higher-order thinking: analysis and synthesis.”
Upstairs, a small group works on art projects. “This is the surrealist art class,” a young girl says. “For this project, we can create anything, but it needs to be in the surrealist style and we need to use two different mediums. I’m using photography.” The girl next to her has made a tree out of metal wire. “I’m going to hang words from the branches,” she says.
Outside the classroom, Omdal emphasizes the importance of supporting the students emotionally and socially. In some cases, the enrichment program is a summer retreat not just intellectually
“There needs to be a place where they can be with their intellectual peers. Once they get here, they are like, ‘I don’t have to filter my vocabulary,’” Omdal says. “It’s a sense of place. They can see that they are not alone.”
Check out the many facets of giftedness defined, exemplified and discussed in Yellow Scene’s Smart Issue.