'Summer school' not what it used to be

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By Tris DeRoma

Here’s a sentence describing one of the classes in “The Summer Program for Younger Students,” a special curriculum created by the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.

“Launch a rocket on the last day of class.”

They’re talking about model rockets, but still, who wouldn’t want to sign up for that? Other courses in the program promise that students will get to learn about fire, fossils, robots, how to solve real life mysteries, program a computer, even train a dog.

It’s these types of learning experiences that have kept the youth of Los Alamos coming back to the “Summer Program for Younger Students” for the past 20 years.

“This is an opportunity for students and parents to fully appreciate the educational opportunities that UNM-LA offers across the age spectrum,” said Dr. Cedric Page, UNM-LA’s executive director. “The early contact with a college of our caliber will give them a pathway for pursuing education for the rest of their lives.”

This year, classes start July 21 and end Aug. 1. All classes take place on the UNM-LA campus. They go for a half day, and students have Fridays off.

This year, The Summer Program will be offering 11 courses for students, grades one through 12.

According to Eva Artschwager, director of community education for UNM-LA, each class features STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts.

This year, for the first time in a long time, the summer courses will feature programs for first, second and third grade students. 

Besides classes designed for fourth grade students on up, the program will host the youngest age group of kids.

“We haven’t had students who are that young on our campus, so we are looking forward to that,” Artschwager said, adding they have some exciting courses for this age group as well.

One of the classes will be something called “Fossil, Rock, Cave,” a course that introduces youngsters to fossils that they will actually be able to see and touch.

“They have the opportunity to explore, hands-on, different rocks through touching them, looking at them through magnifying glasses to learn their makeup, appearance and how they are similar and different to each other,” Artschwager said.

 “It’s very down-to-Earth and hands on, yet at the same time they’re taking away some understanding of bigger ideas that they’ll see again in their future educational experiences.”

The roster of courses is also designed to teach other skills, such as how to be part of a team to accomplish a common goal. In the fourth grade level, there’s a “Robotics Antics” course where students learn to work together using “Lego Mindstorms robotics kits. Other classes in that age group include “Lifters and launchers” and “Fire!”

For the older students, courses include “Forensics,” “Basic (computer) Coding,”  “Working with Animals,” “ Cyber Security” and “Movie Masters.”

In “Cyber Security” students learn how to identify and solve computer crimes, such as hacking.

“It focuses on teaching students how to avoid it, as well as how to understand how people hack into cyber systems,” said Artschwager. “What the students learn really is how to work backwards. This teaches great skills in terms of logic, analytical reasoning and like the robotics class, it requires teamwork.”

The 11 classes offered this year cost $135 each and scholarships are available.

Applications for the scholarships as well as registration forms for classes are available online at losalamos.unm.edu/community-education/for-younger-student.

 “Scholarships are reviewed on the basis of what families can pay,” Artschwager said.

Currently, about
90 students have signed up for the program, but there is room for at least 100 more, according to UNM-LA officials.