By Jennifer Wohlleb
When a mystery illness broke out at the Oldham County fair, it was up to the students at the district’s Summer Scholars program to identify it and come up with a plan of action.
The fact that it was a simulation didn’t make the students take their task any less seriously.
“This involves higher-level thinking skills to really put the pieces together,” said teacher Holly Ringo, who was leading the Mysterious Disease class. It was one of five intensive classes offered as part of Summer Scholars, Oldham County Schools’ version of the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars program.
“When we first started talking about this program it was in relation to the Governor’s Scholars Program, which is a wonderful experience but so few students get to participate in it,” said Jacquelyn Howell, Oldham’s secondary Gifted and Talented Educational Services resource teacher. “There are so many kids who can benefit from this type of study, intense, fast paced. So that’s how the discussion got started: Let’s do something prior to when they apply to Governor’s Scholars.”
PHOTO: Ninth-grader Bridget Rapson is deep in thought as she works on developing her main character as part of the writing class in Oldham County’s Summer Scholars program.
The weeklong program, aimed at students in grades eight through 11, offered the daily two-hour intensive class as well as a one-hour exploratory class.
“It’s for students to break out and try something new or different without the fear that their grades or GPA will be affected,” Howell said.
Oldham County Board of Education member Larry Dodson called the program a positive for the district and the students.
“This is the type of work ethic we want to instill in our kids,” he said. “The more they can get involved with, the better it is for the district.”
Of the 110 students who applied for the program, only 62 were accepted after going through a rigorous process that looked at GPA, attendance and a written essay.
Assistant Superintendent Anita Davis said as organizers searched for ways to give students different experiences, they asked why students were going to different places for enrichment activities when the district had talented people to fill those needs.
“We do that in sports readily and don’t even think twice about it, and I say that as a former coach ... so I thought, why don’t we do more of that in academics, especially for older students,” she asked. “Sometimes the older students who are very academically capable, it becomes harder and harder to serve them. A lot of people think we have AP courses, that will take care of it. I think that’s too easy of a default statement and approach. Our approach needs to be, what can we do differently to help those students have more opportunities? So we put this together.”
She said what makes this experience so rich for students is that there are no constraints in terms of grading or testing.
“This is just about learning for learning’s sake,” Davis said.
For two soon-to-be seniors considering a future in medicine, the “So you want to be a doctor” class was a great opportunity.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if I wanted to go into the field of medicine. It could help me make my decision now instead of waiting until I got into college and then maybe realizing it wasn’t for me,” said Oldham County High School junior Tiffany Raque.
Her classmate Ajit Deshpande, who will be attending the Gatton Academy this fall, has no doubts about his future as a doctor. He said the Summer Scholars program was a great way to continue learning about medicine and to be around students like him.
“All of the people here really want to learn,” he said.
The other intensive classes were on psychology, sociology and writing.
Howell said the Oldham County Education Foundation was instrumental in making the scholars program possible, covering all but the $25 materials fee for in-district students. Three out-of-district students who were accepted to the program were charged a $225 fee.
“Our foundation has been very supportive in looking for ways to support education outside of the traditional classroom,” she said.
And as for the mystery illness striking the county fair, never fear — the students were able to identify an E. coli outbreak and create a plan of action to tackle the problem.