By Erika Solberg
“I love creating time paradoxes!” says a student in Summer Browning Rich’s class, The Craft of Storytelling. He’s talking with a classmate about his writing interests while they work on making covers for the notebooks they will use for the next two weeks of SCATS. In this course, one of 26 offered this year, students have ample opportunity to create. When students finish their notebooks, they can choose a story prompt from a container at the front of the class. Written by their classmates, the prompts are designed to spark ideas, and include such suggestions as, “Quick! You have to leave town! What do you do?” With that intriguing start, writers can follow on whatever path there creativity takes them.
The chance to follow one’s passions and develop one’s creativity is a key component of SCATS, and one of the best places to do those things is in classes that focus on the arts, humanities, and communication. While many people may naturally think of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields as appropriate areas for gifted learning opportunities, non-STEM classes are just as important. SCATS students who are taking those courses such as The Civil War, Guitar 101, and Writing Boot Camp have the opportunity to develop multiple types of literacy, make connections across disciplines, learn new ways to connect with others, and hone creative thinking skills.
Theresa Waddell, who teaches The Fabulous Forms of Chihuly, wants her students to “be creative and play.” On the first day of camp they studied photos of natural objects like jellyfish and peacock tails and discussed how the artist Dale Chihuly uses shapes, colors, and forms found in nature in his blown-glass sculptures. Later in the week they collected leaves, seeds, flowers, and other organic objects to use as inspirations for their own sculptures as well. To understand how Chihuly works with glass, they also spent time melting and sculpting with chocolate.
Another fine arts class, Art Through the Ages, focuses on multiple time periods rather than a single artist. This approach also allows for a multi-disciplinary focus because, as teacher Alicia Wittmer explains, “Art encompasses just about everything.” The course combines an investigation of the history and culture of different eras such as the Renaissance and the Impressionists with hands-on, minds-on art activities. “We have a discussion and then get dirty with it,” Alicia said. “It’s a blast!”
Alicia has drawn some projects from an art class she herself took as a gifted student. In the first days of camp, students used pencil, glue, and metallic paint to create designs based on Mesopotamian pottery. They also created their own Egyptian canopic jars, sculpting animals out of clay to serve as lids. The various forms they chose included a mouse, cobra, and platypus. Ella Simpson of Franklin explained that she chose to sculpt a unicorn because she likes unicorns. “The jar is theoretically supposed to hold our organs, and I wanted a unicorn guarding mine,” she said.
Non-STEM classes do not only focus on the arts, however. Jennay Weatherholt’s Communication and Leadership Fundamentals provides SCATS students with the chance to develop key skills for their middle school years. “I wanted to create a class for the point of life where these students are right now, a class that could benefit them down the road when they are doing college interviews or giving a valedictorian speech,” she explained. “I also wanted to help meet their social needs as gifted learners — to find better ways to communicate with people and share their ideas. And leadership goes along with the effective communication because in order to be a leader, you have to be able to communicate effectively.” Her students agree. Jordan Mehnert of Louisville hopes the class will help him develop the leadership qualities his teachers have pointed out to him, and Sydney Badon from Lexington wants to develop public speaking skills.
Jennay’s students will work on communication by giving two speeches in front of the whole class. The first will be an informative talk on any topic they wish. The second will be a persuasive speech designed to convince their audience to support a cause the speaker cares about. In addition, in the first week students used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment to learn about personality styles that affect their leadership skills such as processing information and making decisions.
Students’ enthusiasm for Jennay’s topic is apparent to her. On the second day of class, she began what she thought would be a short discussion on decision-making styles by presenting the class with the scenario of an employer who has to lay off 10 percent of a workforce. As she anticipated, some students focused on logic to make the decision and others focused on feelings. What surprised her, however, was the intensity of the debate. “It went on for much longer than I expected — about 25 minutes,” she said. “At one point I thought I should cut it off, but then I realized these students don’t get to have a lengthy discussion like this at school, so we kept going.” Rather than being limited by the demands of a specific curriculum or the waning interest of classmates, SCATS students can express their ideas with passion and develop them as far as they are able.
Summer’s The Craft of Storytelling class is also an ideal place for students to explore their passions. In addition to improving their language skills and expanding their creative capabilities, her students have opportunities to collaborate. On Wednesday, students formed small groups for a writing exercise called String of Pearls. Each student started writing a story, and after a few minutes passed that story on to another group member who continued it. The students kept passing around their stories until the group felt they were finished, then chose their favorite to share with the whole class. Lydia Dobbs of Owensboro, Kandi Rogers also of Owensboro, and Bradfield Ross of Benton were very happy with the story they wrote about a 14-year-old girl left to fend for herself.
“It was unexpected,” Kandi said.
“It came together,” Lydia added.
Bradfield, who wrote an ending where the girl blows up her empty house, said that “group writing allows you to develop your ideas more.”
In another group, Javier Sierra of Bowling Green said he enjoyed the exercise because “it’s like a Mad Libs — you fill in your own story. We don’t get to do this kind of writing at school.”
Summer said she has been amazed at the focus and creativity of her students. “One of my students didn’t get to finish the story she wrote on the first day, and after I read it, I tracked her down and told her to take the story back and finish it because I wanted to know what happened next,” she said, “I chose writing because I am so passionate about it, and I see that these kids are so passionate about it, and I’m so glad that’s what I chose to teach.”