May 11, 2007

Students learn and have fun in Academic Talent Search program

Photo: Students in Sacramento State’s Academic Talent Search program learn that summer school can be fun.
Students in Sacramento State’s Academic Talent Search program learn that summer school can be fun.
For most people, the term “summer school” evokes images of bored students taking drivers education or making up a course they failed during the regular school year.

But Sacramento State’s Academic Talent Search gives elementary, middle and high school students a chance to try something unique, leap frog regular school courses or tackle a particularly interesting challenge, all while having fun in a university setting.

About 2,000 young people from sixth through ninth grades will flood the campus this summer with the 26th annual ATS program that offers traditional courses such as Latin and algebra, to hands-on experience in animation and science-fiction writing.

“We’re trying to make it exciting for the student and have the parents realize it’s good solid stuff,” program Executive Director Terry Thomas said.

Academic Talent Search is designed to accelerate the students’ progress in their own school. Some of the courses provide students with a year’s worth of mathematics or a foreign language such as Spanish, French or Japanese.

Other classes are more of an enrichment program, giving the participants backgrounds in robotics, law or engineering.

Still others lend themselves to fun activities such as screenplay writing and digital movie-making.

Entry into the program begins with an exam offered at 300 locations throughout the Sacramento area in January and March. The exam costs $10, or the student and parents can set up a special appointment to take the test for $40.

Course fees are $99 to $366, depending on the type and length of the courses, which are offered in one-, three- and five-week segments.

Besides enhancing the students’ education, the program offers some intangibles. Participants get to meet students from other schools and get a taste of college life.

Students are given some orientation, but are not escorted around the campus and have to find their own way from class to class, Thomas said.

For students such as Melayne Alexander, an eighth-grader at Joseph Kerr Middle School in Elk Grove, that first day can be a bit daunting.

“I was excited and overwhelmed because I got lost going to my second class,” Alexander said, adding that the program teaches the student how to survive on their own and learn good study habits.

Scott Hollingsworth, a Folsom Middle School eighth-grader, had the same experience.

“I was pretty anxious,” Hollingsworth said. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but they really welcome you, and I had a lot of fun.”

Alexander, who took architectural home design and 3-D modeling, still keeps in touch through e-mail with other students she met last summer.

That early experience on campus also has her more inclined to consider Sacramento State when it’s time to pick a college. “I already know my way around campus,” she said.

Instructors are recruited from all professions and walks of life.

Wayne Strumpfer, the deputy commissioner of the California Department of Corporations, teaches criminal and constitutional law and this year will co-teach a new class on the use of forensic evidence in the criminal justice system.

The program already holds classes in collecting forensic evidence, a course that drew even more attention a few years ago.

“When CSI came along, it just boomed in popularity,” Thomas said.

The new class taught by Strumpfer and Michael Canzoneri will examine how that evidence is used in criminal trials as well as its impact on the defendant’s rights.

Strumpfer said that while his classes are set at the college freshman level, he doesn’t make the work load too heavy.

“I don’t want it to be a grind. That comes later in law school,” he joked.

Besides making new friends, having fun and learning something new, there are even more benefits to the program, as Scott Hollingsworth found out.

After taking algebra last summer, he was able to skip the course at his middle school and takes high school geometry online.

That’s one less class he actually has to attend.

“I get out an hour early from my school now,” Hollingsworth said.

For more information on Academic Talent Search, call (916) 278-7032 or visit edweb.csus.edu/Projects/ats.

For media assistance, call the Sacramento State Public Affairs Department at (916) 278-6156.