As they gathered in a large classroom Tuesday at Anderson Intermediate School, about a dozen sixth-graders chatted quietly as they waited to be directed to their first activity of the day.
While many of their peers are on fall break, the students are attending classes as normal, following a similar schedule to the regular school day.
“I’m here to learn and have fun,” Todd Gosha said. “There’s less talking, and it’s easier to focus.”
According to organizers of Anderson Community Schools’ Fall Advancement Academy, that’s the idea.
“It keeps them engaged during fall break,” said Veda Morris-May, the executive director of the Minority Health Coalition of Madison County.
“Although it’s like school work, it provides so many other opportunities. They maintain their structure, but they also gain new experiences.”
The Advancement Academy program began in 2021, when the minority health coalition received a $4.2 million grant from the Indiana Department of Education to fund accelerated learning plans and foster relationships between schools and community organizations.
Although the last of those funds were utilized for the summer Advancement Academy session, ACS officials applied some of the district’s federal COVID-19 relief money toward renewing the program for the 2023-24 academic year. Sessions will be scheduled for next spring and summer.
“For those students that may not have done the best these last nine weeks, this is to help them get some information and get them into a smaller setting,” said Maureen Duncan, who has directed the program locally since its inception.
“Now, hopefully, they’re able to grasp those concepts.”
Duncan said more than 950 students had registered for the academy’s fall session, and the first week saw an attendance rate of about 75%. The students are distributed at three buildings in the district: Anderson Elementary, Eastside Elementary and Anderson Intermediate.
She noted that the two-week academy also offers a unique opportunity for teachers who apply to staff the program. She said that the program’s mix of classroom work and non-academic activities enables teachers to give new methods and activities a trial run for consideration.
As an example, Duncan mentioned an academy class that features a counting activity involving hopscotch; another activity, a scavenger hunt, is designed to incorporate concepts to address reading comprehension.
“They’re professionals, so this setting allows them to be more creative than they’re otherwise able to do,” she said.
Another activity allowed sixth-graders to chat with three members of the Anderson Police Department. The officers answered questions about their safety equipment, including why they carry Tasers, and led a discussion about verifying information they see on social media.
“There’s a lot of times that they’ll see things on social media, on YouTube, on the news that they may have questions about, and they don’t really have the connection to go and ask somebody those questions,” said Det. Brian Gehrke, who’s been with APD for 15 years. “That gives us the opportunity, when they do have those questions, to be able to explain to them from a law enforcement perspective of what it is that they actually saw.”
Gehrke said that since information is available to increasingly younger audiences with the swipe of a finger, critical thinking and the ability to do basic research are vital skills — even for elementary-age students.
“We always ask them to, no matter what you see, always do your research, always investigate before you make any sort of judgment,” he said. “We tell them, that’s with anything in life.”
This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.