August 2, 2004

Champion middle schoolers meet Emory challenge


By Eric Rangus

One of Emory’s newest and most innovative summer programs for school children honored its first graduating class with a July 16 ceremony attended by President Jim Wagner, as well as 38 of the 48 members of that class and their families.

The gymnasium in the Student Activity and Athletic Center (SAAC) on the Clairmont Campus was the site of the event, which capped Challenge & Champions @ Emory, a three-week program administered by Emory faculty, staff and students that hosted middle-school students and helped them develop a variety of skills in academics, fitness and social behavior.

“It uses an innovative model of integrated skills that conform to what’s going on with young adolescent development,” said Wendy Newby, assistant dean of Emory College. Newby was co-creator of the Challenge & Champions curriculum, which first debuted at North Carolina State University in 1990. This is its pilot year at Emory, she said, adding that much of the feedback has been positive and she hopes to increase the size of the program next summer.

Challenge & Champions is a program for fifth through eighth graders, blending academics—including subject matter in astronomy, civics, anatomy and world cultures, depending on grade level—with athletics. Weight training, personal fitness and team sports like volleyball and soccer are part of the offerings. Students learn to practice their still-developing social skills as members of teams and in classroom group projects.

Wagner, who attended the ceremony with his wife Debbie, congratulated the graduates for learning to be “excellent givers.”

“Normally, when I say ‘excellent,’ you think ‘superior,’ like the best athlete,” Wagner said. “You’ve learned another definition of excellence that might also mean the ability to change the way other people think or the way other people do things. That way you can be number two and still be excellent.

“There is no greater pleasure in life than those times when you are a giver,” Wagner continued, moving on to the second part of his image. “You are givers of ideas, of encouragement, givers of the kind of strength you have learned here.”

At the July 16 award ceremony, each camper in attendance was identified individually. A slide with their photo and a list of their accomplishments was projected onto the gym wall as they crossed the stage to receive their certificate of graduation.
Academic Program Director Karen Falkenberg and Physical Education Program Director Steve Lewis handed out the awards and served as masters of ceremony, introducing the various speakers and singling out for recognition camp counselors and teachers. Following Wagner’s congratulatory wishes, each of the camp’s five instructors, including Lewis, gave brief descriptions of the curriculum and the accomplishments of the students.

Eleanor Main, director of the Division of Educational Studies, under which the program falls, also said a few words. “Any of us who teach, no matter what the level, know that others give us a great responsibility when they give their children to us,” she said, speaking specifically to the many parents who filled the back rows of the crowd. “You taught us as we taught you,” she said, turning her attention to the students in front.

Educational studies’ Masters of Arts in Teaching students helped develop and implement lesson plans for the academic portion of Challenge & Champions and also served as classroom observers.

The ceremony concluded with a step show choreographed and performed by several campers, then a slide show put together by camp counselor Heather Brown featuring dozens of campers, their ubiquitous smiles certifying the program a success.