Emory Report
July 23, 2007
Volume 59, Number 35

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July 23, 2007
Challenge & Champions inspires student and teacher enthusiasm

by kim Urquhart

From tracking a popular Harry Potter book from script to screen to learning the basics of badminton, Challenge & Champions offers a clever combination of academic enrichment, physical education and summer fun for rising 6th, 7th and 8th graders from metro Atlanta. The innovative three-week program serves a dual purpose: to challenge young minds and train pre-service teachers.

The program blends academics with athletics to help middle school students develop healthy habits while practicing their still-developing social skills and independent learning strategies. Through the multidisciplinary courses, students reinforce enthusiasm for learning and challenging themselves. Assisting the teachers and children are Emory Master of Arts in Teaching graduate students enrolled in an intensive course on classroom management.

“This is truly a theory practice learning course,” said Karen Falkenberg, lecturer in the Division of Educational Studies and program director since C&C’s inception. The “rigorous course” allows MAT students “an opportunity to get immersed with kids early and in a small setting,” she said.

The Emory teachers-in-training observe and assist C&C teachers in action during the academic classes. Falkenberg described these local educators as “the best of the best.” The graduate students also meet for mentoring sessions with another exemplary practicing teacher, Lisa Garosi, an instructional coach in the Fulton County Schools. The topics they discuss are connected to what they are learning in Falkenberg’s course: the nuts and bolts of what it takes to energize a class and make the subject matter stick.

The program provides an opportunity for C&C teachers to share ideas and methods with the MATs and to renew the excitement that led them to the field. Michelle Frost, a math teacher at the Atlanta Girls School who has been involved with C&C in various capacities for three years, noted the importance of learning from experience. How to handle “the day-to-day problems and experiences that come up in real life” comes from practice, she said. This is true for both the MATs and children.

Frost teaches “The Secret Lives of Mathematicians,” a course designed to generate preteen enthusiasm. Studying the biographies of men and women who are leaders in the field of math “personalizes it and opens the students eyes to more than just formulas,” Frost said.

Enrolled children select two interdisciplinary electives from the four offered: language arts, social studies, science and math. A course titled “Words in Motion,” taught by Jennifer Johnson, an Emory MAT alumni and a “Teacher of the Year” from Gwinnett County, featured a trip to the Woodruff Library and Emory’s theater department and culminated in the students’ presentation of a puppet show. “Light up your life!,” taught by Aminata Umoja, a veteran teacher with more than 25 years experience, included a visit to an Emory science lab where graduate students demonstrated experiments on electromagnetic energy. Participating in a mock trial at Emory Law School was a highlight of “Democracy: How it Works,” a course taught by Milton High School’s David Lakin.

Enjoying the resources offered on Emory’s Clairmont Campus, C&C students spend the afternoons sprinting in the 100-meter dash in an Olympic sports class, testing their skills in “camp games,” learning the latest moves in step class, or playing basketball, volleyball or soccer. These P.E. courses, taught by master teachers Eric Heintz, Craig Johnson and Todd Posey, strive to blend fun, skill-building, confidence and sportsmanship. The children learn sports such as badminton, water polo and team handball, options not typically found in a traditional sports camp. The program’s most popular activity is the free swim every afternoon in Emory’s 50-meter Olympic-sized pool.

The children, who come from a broad range of backgrounds, are also learning another important lesson: that college is possible. “We wanted to really enforce the fact that everybody has the opportunity to come here,” said Falkenberg, who has led efforts to enhance the program’s accessibility. Whether it was providing transportation, financial aid, making lunches, or hiring counselors who speak Spanish, “we thought about ways to reduce barriers to have kids experience life on a college campus,” Falkenberg said. This year’s student body included several children from homeless shelters, and Professor Vialla Hartfield-Mendez was instrumental in leading the support for the inclusion of more Hispanic children.

Camp counselors — Emory undergraduates who help with camp logistics — also act as mentors, Falkenberg said. “Counselors know that playing Uno by the pool with the children, for instance, provides an opportunity for these undergraduates to talk about college, to get students thinking about what it is like to go to college, and to show them that it is interesting, fun — and attainable.” To this end, Simona Perales, an Emory admissions officer, spoke with the children about ways to prepare for college. It is never too early, said Falkenberg, who noted, “Middle school is a very important time to start thinking about those choices.”

Early adolescence is also a time of rapid cognitive, social and physical exploration and growth, which is why effective teachers like those on the staff are essential to inspiring both students and teachers-in-training, said Falkenberg.

She attributed another successful summer — the fourth annual program concluded with an awards ceremony July 13 — to the dedication and support of the C&C staff. “Together we are creating something important for kids and graduate students,” Falkenberg said. Next year’s enrollment will begin on Feb. 1. More information on the program, including the application forms, can be found at www.des.emory.edu/C&C.