Expanding young minds Gifted kids from all over Pennsylvania converge at Franklin & Marshall to explore a wide range of subjects.
By Brian Wallace, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
When the vitreous humor slid out of the sheep's eyeball and splatted onto the pan like a blob of undercooked Jell-O, Stacey Ruch knew she had the kids where she wanted them.
Disgusted, of course, as evidenced by the chorus of "Oooooo!"s that ensued.
But enraptured, too, by what Ruch had to say about the inner workings of that eyeball and the nearby sheep's brain, both of which the children -- those brave enough, anyway -- got to hold Saturday morning.
About 15 youngsters from kindergarten through grade six were participating in "Explain Your Brain!," one of 16 workshops held Saturday morning during "Super Saturday" at Franklin & Marshall College.
The event, sponsored by Lancaster County Partners for Gifted Education, was designed to provide hands-on activities that were more diverse and in-depth than what most schools offer to kids.
The workshops also gave gifted students who sometimes stand apart from the crowd -- for better or worse -- a chance to mingle with like-minded children.
The brainchild of LC PAGE president Alrica Goldstein, "Super Saturday" attracted nearly 350 children from as far away as Philadelphia -- nearly twice the turnout of last year's inaugural event.
During the brain workshop, Ruch and Amanda Price, both instructors at Lancaster General College of Nursing & Health Sciences, dissected the eyes and brains of sheep and talked about the intricacies of both organs before playing "brain games" with the students.
"If anyone ever calls you a fathead, that's good," Price told the youngsters, pointing out that brains become fatty as children age, which helps neurons deliver messages more rapidly.
In the classroom next door, about 20 kids were using sand, gravel, coffee filters, cloth and cotton balls to clean contaminants from water in the "Dirty Water Challenge."
Elsewhere in Stager and Keiper halls, children were doing experiments with electromagnetism, interacting with a humanoid robot named NAO and building motorized LEGO models.
Other workshops gave kids a chance to try yoga, jazz dancing, pottery and creating art from plastic water bottles and other recycled materials. Children also could learn about Civil War-era games, clothing and crafts and the art of ancient cultures.
Carin Kreiss, of Stewartstown, drove about an hour to bring her daughter, Lillian, 10, to "Super Saturday." They made the trek with five other students from southern York County.
"I think it's pretty neat," Kreiss said of the program. "They're trying to make it fun so kids are learning without knowing they're learning, which is a nice way to present information.
"The price was really reasonable, so if it's a nice price, you don't mind the drive."
Children could attend three workshops from 9 a.m. to noon for $15; for LC PAGE members the fee was $10.
The organization was able to keep the price low because F&M provided classroom space at a discounted rate, and the instructors all volunteered their time, as did 45 classroom helpers.
"We had people coming from Juniata County, Easton and Philadelphia. We're hitting about 10 counties, which is shocking to me and very sad at the same time," Goldstein said.
"People are saying nobody's doing anything like this in our area. There's not gifted support up here. There are a lot of opportunities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh but not much in between."
Because of budget cuts and changing funding priorities, fewer schools are providing the level of instruction and services that gifted students need, said Goldstein, a Manheim Township parent of two gifted students.
"There's this attitude that gifted kids will be fine if we do nothing, and that's just not the case," she said. "These are very, very intense kids. They want to learn all the time. It goes way beyond the toddler phase of asking 'Why?' all the time."
Events like "Super Saturday" are important because they let gifted children know "they're not the only kid in the world to feel like this," Goldstein said.
Zully Young, who brought her 9-year-old son, Cameron, to the workshops, agreed.
"I think it's important because sometimes gifted kids kind of stay within their little group in school. That's the only time they interact with each other," said Young, of Manheim Township.
"I think this is a great outlet for them to meet other kids from other school districts and be able to be creative, work together, express their ideas and just have a great time doing things they love to do."
In addition to organizing "Super Saturday," LC PAGE awards grants to teachers who are successfully meeting the needs of gifted students.
The group also advocates for parents of gifted students to assure that their children's needs are being met.
While the kids participated in the seminars Saturday, many of their parents attended a workshop on gifted IEPs, or individualized education programs, which mandate what services schools must provide to gifted children.n