Kids Get to Explore at Converse's Weeklong Athena Institute

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Young pirates searched for buried treasure and future Indiana Jones explorers dug up artifacts this week as part of an adventure to discover the unknown. The exercises were developed by Converse College graduate students to create fun learning activities for elementary school students. The program is part of the college’s Athena Institute, a yearly summer camp for gifted children.

More than 200 local students spent a week attending classes at Houston Elementary School, where the classrooms were transformed into lands of adventure.

One class became crime scene investigators searching for clues to determine who kidnapped the school mascot. Another class learned how rock salt and ice make ice cream. “Everything is pretty much hands on,” said Nancy Breard, coordinator of the institute and director of the Converse College Gifted Program. “There isn’t much writing and sitting in desks. It’s getting involved and doing things. The children are learning while having a lot of fun.”

“Humans are curious and have always wanted to explore and learn about the unknown”

This year’s theme was exploration and focused on the areas of civilization, chemistry, environment and mysteries. Teachers developed lessons for each area.

Activities in other classes included students exploring the possibility of space colonies, working on recycling and making tie-dye T-shirts. “It is human nature to explore,” Breard said. “Humans are curious and have always wanted to explore and learn about the unknown.”

The young pirates used maps to search around the school for treasures in the mystery class. They enjoyed searching for treasures just as much as they liked wearing their large black and white pirate hats. Another class was set up for an archeological dig to explore daily life from early civilizations. The teacher buried artifacts for the students to dig up. After they found the artifacts, students talked about the civilizations that would have used them.

Courtney Reinhardt, 16, a junior at Dorman High School, assisted the students and teachers. She was a participant in the program years ago and loved it so much she is helping out this year. “Every time I work here, I think about becoming a teacher,” she said.

Teachers seemed to enjoy the camp as much as the students. They walked around giving high-fives to students for doing a good job.

Henry McAninch, a Spartanburg High School teacher, worked with students at the archeological site outdoors. He loved how excited the students were as they discovered the artifacts. “I like the idea of being outside. I often think we do too much virtual work,” he said. “… Too often, the past stays in books and gets stale for a lot of students.”

 This story was published by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Written by Madoree Pipkins; Photo credit: John Byrum

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