William & Mary recently welcomed several hundred students to campus, but they were a bit younger than the university’s usual enrollees.
They came for the Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) offered by the College’s Center for Gifted Education, where students in grades K through 9 can explore topics not offered in their regular school curriculum.
The Summer Enrichment Program is intended to present academic challenges to gifted learners, who have to qualify in order to enroll. Qualification is based on performance on nationally standardized tests, according to program director Mihyeon Kim, who explained that students have to be over the 95th percentile in at least one subject in order to be admitted to the program. Students then have the opportunity to choose from classes that cover topics like engineering, genetic diseases and art.
Approximately 600 students participate in the Summer Enrichment Program each year, split over two one-week sessions. Classes have a minimum of eight students and a maximum of 16, with an instructor and teaching assistant for each as well as floating assistants that can help out wherever they’re needed. Dr. Kim says that this low student to teacher ratio helps kids adjust to being on a college campus, which can be quite different from the classrooms in their normal schools.
The instructors believe that this program offers an exceptional experience for students, with projects based on those found in college courses. Retired shop teacher Pennie Brown teaches an engineering course for third through fifth graders and says that the projects are “the same concept, different materials” when compared to tasks that college students may undertake.
Brown also makes sure that students will take benefits back to their classes in school by “tying in the science and things of that nature so that whenever there’s a term or a concept they’ve done in class we bring it right back in.”
When Christina Estrella wanted to supplement her son Gavin’s education, W&M jumped out as a place that he could be challenged in ways not available in his normal classroom. This is now his fifth year in the program and younger brother Gabriel started this summer as well. Mom says that the coursework is what keeps them coming back, calling it “challenging enough that the kids can come here every year” and noting that her children’s experience here on campus “helps them think outside the box.”
Alaida Jones, another parent with a child in the program, agrees that the science courses that her son Adam has taken are unique among the opportunities available to Virginian students.
“We would not be able to get this anywhere else that I can think of,” she said.
Adam enjoys the program so much that she is able to use it as leverage during the school year, telling him, “You have to keep up your grades if you want to go back to William & Mary and participate.” The tactic appears to be an effective one, as he is a straight “A” student.
In addition to the summer program, the Center for Gifted Education offers Saturday Enrichment Programs throughout the fall and spring. These programs take place on campus and at various locations in Richmond and Washington, D.C.
Some students are eager for any opportunity to further their education. As Alaida Jones puts it, “We intend to come every year.”