RIPLEY - The reviews have been posted and the verdict is in: Ripley Central School District's Eagle University is a soaring success.
The district's new summer program finished its pilot run on Aug. 15. More than 100 students signed up for the program and daily attendance during the three sessions exceeded 80 students since its opening day on July 7. Children in grades 3 through 6 were able to select two clubs in which to participate during each session.
While there were many "clubs" from which to choose, the favorites included Cake Boss, Camp Percy Jackson, Cosmetology, Olympic Games and The Voice. Each course was designed to promote self-esteem and self-confidence, while providing opportunities for social development.
Gabrielle Fisher, Lorelai Jones, Jasmine Hawkins, and Olivia Maring get their hands messy in the Mad Scientist course.
Pre-kindergarten students prepare for swashbuckling adventures in Pirate Camp.
As for the success of the program, one only needs to ask the students, whose comments are posted on the walls of the elementary school.
Naomi Fisher stated: "I liked that we got to pick our club and that there were a lot of clubs to choose from. I really like gymnastics, basketball and camp Percy Jackson." Angel Kuhn commented, "My favorite part of Eagle University was cosmetology when we did bows and nails." Sydney Nellis added "I was in cake boss with my grammy making frosting and cake." And Chris Lucas said his favorite part was when "we played math racing games with addition/subtraction facts because you have lots of fun with your friends."
Youngsters in Pre-K through grade 2 were not able to choose their clubs, however. Children participated in different courses during each session, including Mad Scientists, Pirate Camp, Treasure Hunting, Splash Camp, and Mad Musical Instruments. Anna Golhardt said: "My favorite part was making the instruments." And Telaney Walrod said: "My favorite part was when went to the creek and we went across the bridge."
Throughout the summer, students in Eagle University also worked in the school garden, located in an enclosed courtyard. They helped plant, assisted with weeding, watering, identifying insects and even hunting for worms. As the summer progressed they learned about the growth cycle of the season. District superintendent and principal Dr. Lauren Ormsby said one of the most exciting activities for the children was harvesting blueberries and getting to eat blueberry pancakes right there in the courtyard.
Eagle University was the Ormsby's brainchild, created through a partnership with the school and the town recreation program. For years, Ripley had tried to re-brand the summer program to get away from the idea of a remedial course for struggling students.
She came up with the idea for a college-style program when her son attended the JCC "Kid's College" summer program. She envisioned a program that would offer a series of courses to enrich students and provide academic opportunities through hands-on activities. Instead of a structured environment, Ormsby said, college rules would apply, where the students were free to choose their seats, move about and choose their activities.
Ormsby said the program had no lack of volunteers. "More teachers applied to help than we could accept," she said. "We also thought the town employees did a great job. We really enjoyed collaborating with the town and they were essential partners in this new venture."
But she especially credited the program's success to Eagle University program director, Erika Meredith. "She worked hundreds of hours to make sure Eagle U was a success and did a fantastic job. We really could not have done it without her."
The program was also designed to promote "grit, determination and perseverance," Ormsby said. "We don't want to create entitlement. We want them to commit to it," she said. "It has nothing to do with academic achievement, but with kids who show up every day ... when you're trying to run things with college goals, you have to stick it out," she said.
For example, on the last day of the girls basketball course, participants received their own basketball, but only if they showed up for 90 percent of the classes. Although they did not know this until the last day, all 12 girls in the program qualified, Ormsby said.
The focus on commitment will continue into the coming year and the after-school club program, Ormsby said. Certain elite clubs will be created that a student must apply for using attendance record from last year's clubs and Eagle University as well as a reference letter from a leader of one of those activities. Next summer's Eagle University will be open to everyone, but certain courses will also require attendance records, she said.
Ormsby tried to lead by example. She showed up every morning at 7:30 a.m. to begin preparations for that day. Although it turned out to be more work than she had imagined, "it was worth every minute," she said. "As a principal and superintendent, I have such a limited time with the students. Eagle University allowed me to get to know them in a less structured environment and really spend time with them."