District high-potential students don’t let summer stop the learning

Students from Eagle Point and Carver elementary learned about Japanese culture at the Como Japanese Garden during a field trip for a Summer Academy class. (photos courtesy of Erinn Letts)

Above, fifth-grader Naomi Brouk tested her chemistry skills at Summer Academy in a ‘Fun with Matter’ class.

Fifth-grader Sahwa Ibrahim learned about mosaic art and Indian ink in her Summer Academy class.

Eighth-grader Kai Gertjejanssen showed off his marble structure at the Summer Academy’s open house.

For District 622 students, nine months of school is just not enough to sate their curiosity and indulge their imaginations.

Every June, dozens of district students participate in the North Suburban Summer Academy For High-Potential Learners in Columbia Heights. Summer Academy, or S.A. for short, is open to identified gifted students from 12 Twin Cities school districts, including District 622.

The nearly three-week-long academy gives more than 1,300 students the opportunity to take challenging classes that stretch their intellect and ignite their creativity.

Naomi Brouk, an Eagle Point Elementary fifth-grader, took the class Chemistry: Fun with Matter. 

“At first I thought it would be like a regular chemistry class,” she said. “But the teachers make it way more fun. It encourages us to do lots of work but still have fun, while learning at the same time.”

Brouk said she enjoyed the hands-on experiments like the copper lab. It involved “putting gas into copper, turning the copper into different forms of matter, and then back to copper,” she said.

Sylvia Knodt, a fourth-grader at Eagle Point, and Carina Rain Vang, a third-grader at Carver, both took a class on Japan this year.

On a field trip to the Como Japanese Garden, Knodt said she loved the peace of the garden and all things Japanese in general — so much so that she took this class for the second time in two years. 

“I wanted to have the same experience because I thought it was so fun last year,” she said.

Sporting a black cap with a cat’s face and sequined ears, Rain Vang said she enjoyed learning about the culture. 

“I’m half Hmong so I’m interested in Japanese and other Asian things,” she said.

Allan Foster, a fifth-grader at Cowern, took the Simulation Games class during his fourth year at S.A. 

“I like how it wasn’t like other classes where you did a lot of school work,” he said. 

The class uses complex board games to challenge students’ critical thinking and collaboration skills while helping them develop intricate strategies.

Ariana Morales will be a fifth-grader at Eagle Point this year. She took a class called Go West, Young Woman. The class is all about pioneer life and the development of the West in the 18th century.

“Summer Academy lets your imagination run free,” Morales said. “You learn a ton of things, and I like to learn about everything.”

Danica Draves, a teaching assistant, is also a District 622 student. Danica and her sister, Gretchen, worked as assistants for the first time this year. 

“I liked being in charge,” Danica said with a laugh. “This was the first time I was in a position of authority, and I like being able to help out.”

Danica said there was one time it wasn’t so fun to be in charge, though. 

“We were on a field trip to Gibbs Farm, and I was on throw-up duty,” she said, noting young children and long bus rides don’t always mix well. 

Danica will be an eighth-grader at Skyview Middle School, and Gretchen is entering her sophomore year at Tartan High School.

In the Architectural Design class, Cecilia Goracki designed and created a scale model of her dream home. Her model house on the North Shore featured a great room with a grand piano.

She said there is also a “morning room facing Lake Superior where you can watch the sunrise through the window. There is

a hidden library, [and] if you slide the bookshelf it’ll open the library.”

While she splurged on some areas like the hidden library, other design decisions were based on practicality.

“We had to think about the design, too — like how many bathrooms, bedrooms,” Goracki said. “You can’t just have a fun house.”

She will be a seventh-grader at Maplewood Middle School this fall.

Kai Gertjejanssen demonstrated his complex marble run roller coaster to visitors at the academy’s open house. His contraption required two marbles of different weights, a loopty-loop spiral, paper funnels, switchbacks, tubes and a tunnel through the middle.

“It was really fun,” Gertjejanssen said of the Incredible Machines class. “We didn’t have certain requirements. They let us do what we wanted. I liked the freedom in that.” 

He will be an eighth-grader at Skyview Middle next fall.

Sahwa Ibrahim, a fifth grader at Carver, chose the To Be an Artist class for her first summer at the academy.

“It’s a nice experience,” she said of her lessons on glass mosaic and printing with India ink.

Elias Moldan, second-grader at Cowern, visited the Works Museum on a field trip with his Tech Ninjas class. The students learned about engineering and created their very own wiggling robots.

“The electric coils collect electricity from the magnet when it spins,” he explained “If you could spin it fast enough, it would make its own electricity.”

Liam Ebenhoch also took a science course this year. In his science lab, lab coats were replaced with personalized aprons, bunsen burners became stove tops and lab reports doubled as recipe books.

Ebenhoch has attended Summer Academy for five or six years and enjoyed the class Science in the Kitchen this year. 

“It’s one of my favorites,” he said. “I liked learning to cook a ton of new foods and getting to eat. I made a lot of stuff at home that I learned here.”

Oh, and he also learned a lot of science as well.

Grant Siebert, Carson Tietz and Vivian Nguyen all took the Video Games for Good class.

“It’s fun to learn about stuff that’s not the normal school stuff,î said Nguyen, a sixth-grader at John Glenn Middle School.

Tietz, who will be a sixth-grader at Maplewood Middle School in the fall, said that at S.A. there’s always something new to do. He enjoyed programming computers and learning to code in the gaming class. 

“There’s so much logic involved and I love logic,” he said. 

Siebert, fifth-grader at Castle, is in his third class at S.A. 

“It’s fun to meet new people,” he said. “You get to pick the classes you want and you go on field trips.”


—submitted by Kathryn Marget, District 622 high-potential teacher

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