Middle and high school students voluntarily spending their summer vacation in school?
No, it’s not a dream scenario for teachers and parents. It’s reality at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, where the Summer Scholars Institute is currently in session.
“We have some students ... they say, ‘Please, please, I want to get in the program,’” said Robin Anyanwu, SSI program director.
The institute is an invitation-based program, beginning in middle school when teachers and counselors of seventh-grade students can recommend who would benefit most from this program. Students may return to it for two years, as rising ninth-graders and rising 10th-graders.
They come from Hall, Gainesville and Habersham school systems.
It is a regular school day, with classes framed around the curriculum for the next grade the students will be attending. For example, the rising eighth-graders will be learning from the first nine weeks of eighth-grade classes.
It’s a confidence builder, institute leaders say.
“They’re getting a jump-start,” said Barbara Harkins, SSI lead teacher. “They’re going to know in advance ... and they’re going to feel successful those first nine weeks.”
David Rivera, a rising eighth-grader at South Hall Middle School, echoed Harkins’ statement.
“It, like, really helps me a lot for school, and it’s going to help me next year,” he said.
Rivera was part of a group demonstrating different experiments in Sarah Goodwin’s science class Wednesday. Completely developed by the students, the experiments showed the differences between physical and chemical changes.
The SSI is completely free to the students and their families. It’s funded in large part through United Way and the Jackson EMC Foundation.
It would be $850 per student if the families had to pay, but there are no out-of-pocket expenses for the participating students.
Goodwin has been with the program for three years, first as a volunteer. This was her first year as an SSI teacher.
“I think that it provides a good opportunity for the students to get ahead,” she said. “This gives them an opportunity to get exposed to some of the courses that they’re going to take the next year.”
The goal is to encourage students to stay in school, and move on to college. The success levels are impressive. For example, out of the 33 who graduated from the program in 2008, 11 are currently in college. Several are working, and a few have joined the Army.
Physical education teacher Jarvis Davenport has been with SSI since 1998, and says that he’s seen firsthand the impact of the program.
“(The other day), I saw a young lady at the bank,” he said. “She’s a teller. And she asked me if I had ever done anything at Gainesville College. I said, ‘I do some things in the summer.’”
She asked if he did the Summer Scholars Institute, and he said he had.
“She said, ‘I remember you, I was (there) in ‘98,’” he said. “And that happens all the time.”