Austin College teacher education students in the Austin Teacher Program and 84 Grayson County elementary school students spent the last weeks of July exploring India, a nation nearly 9,000 miles away—all from classrooms in Jefferson School.
The half-day learning program, Thinking Camp, is in its 10th year—and set a new participation record with 84 students. Seven Austin College graduates now in Austin Teacher Program master’s degree courses served as the teachers for this year’s focus on “India: Land of Mystery.” The children learned about the people, culture, customs, and geography of India. Lessons also included study of transportation, living conditions, weather and its impact on economics, and the music and art of the nation.
Students also had the opportunity to learn some Indian dance steps. Austin College juniors Surya Ravi of Plano and Meghana Bellary of Richardson provided the children and teachers another glimpse into the nation’s culture, sharing Bollywood and classical dance. “They picked up the steps faster than I assumed they could,” said Surya, who has trained in Indian classical dance for the past nine years. “They were all so enthusiastic and immersed themselves in the experience beautifully, more than I could have asked for!”
The summer program had its beginning 10 years ago when Sherman educators recognized a lack of summer programs for gifted and talented students. Since Austin College teacher education students taking summer classes needed classroom interaction with students—and Austin Teacher Program (ATP) faculty already had many ties in the SISD, the collaborative program seemed ideal.
Dr. Julia Shahid of Austin College’s ATP works with Cyndi Petray, a Sherman teacher for gifted and talented students at Jefferson and Neblett elementary schools, to organize the camp. In its early years, the camp was offered just to Jefferson School students but now is open to first- through fourth-grade children at all Sherman elementary schools.
In the past 10 summers, more than 500 SISD students have taken part in the educational enrichment camp, which has provided teacher preparation training for more than 100 ATP students. This July, a generous grant from the Capt. H.T. Hastings Charitable Trust provided funding.
While the Austin College students are teaching, they also are learning. “This camp benefits me as a future teacher by providing experience—something I can’t read in a book,” said Christopher Hickson of Fort Worth. “I had the experience of team teaching and working with students as I refine my craft of teaching. As a teacher I am committed to lifelong learning and anytime I step into the classroom there is an opportunity for me to learn from the students while they are learning from me.”
Shahid said that prior to this experience most of these students have taught for only one hour per day. The half-day sessions help prepare them for student teaching when they will be in the classroom full time. The larger camp session this summer, with approximately 28 students per classroom, also closely mirrors what the teachers will encounter in regular classrooms.
The summer ATP course focuses on science and social studies teaching, opening a wide range of topics for the camp. Previous camps have focused on extreme weather, the environment, space, Japan, Southeast Asia, plants, and the beach. “I am so excited to see our students develop confidence in their ability to plan for student learning and engagement,” Shahid said. “This experience truly provides them an opportunity to provide a rich, integrated curriculum that has meaning for both their learners and for them. They really are focused on their students and it is such a joy to see them build relationship with the students in just two weeks. The graduate students have full autonomy in their classrooms and I see just how empowering that is for each of them as pre-service teachers.”
Of course, the children learned many new things about a country nearly 9,000 miles away. “Since the camp is close to the start of school the students will begin school with sharp and fresh minds that are ready to learn,” Hickson said. “These students also gained a new appreciation for India as a country and an appreciation for the things they have in America that students in India don’t have. The students learned about India’s culture and can talk about misconceptions a lot of people hold.”
ATP students leading the 2012 Thinking Camp:
- Cassie Ensminger of Plano, Texas
- Ashleigh Gonzales of Wylie, Texas
- Christopher Hickson of Fort Worth, Texas
- Victoria Leger of Lucas, Texas
- Quinn McKee of Plano, Texas
- Andrea Schneider of Austin, Texas
- Tiffany Shim of Dallas, Texas
Austin College is a leading national independent liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas. Founded in 1849, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original charter and name, the college is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA). Recognized nationally for academic excellence in the areas of international education, pre-professional training, and leadership studies, Austin College is one of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives.