500 CCSD Students Build Skills, Friendships During Summer Enrichment Academy

Students build a Rube Goldberg machine during the Cobb County School District’s Summer Enrichment Academy at Chalker Elementary School June 15.

“It was awesome!” That’s how Kincaid Elementary School rising fifth grader Nicholas described the four days he spent in a classroom over summer break. 

Nicholas was one of 500 students who participated in the Cobb County School District’s (CCSD) Summer Enrichment Academy in June. The program, which is designed to enhance student learning with curriculum created by District staff, is split between two weeks and two locations: Teasley Elementary and Chalker Elementary schools.

The rising fourth, fifth and sixth grade students enrolled in the academy earned high achievement composite scores in math, reading, social studies and language arts. Based on student scores, District staff sent out approximately 2,000 invitations to qualified students encouraging them to apply for the summer academy. Of the 800 students who submitted applications, 500 students secured slots in the enrichment program via a lottery.

Last year, Vince Vruno’s daughter Izzy was disappointed when she didn’t win a spot in the academy through the lottery. So when the rising fifth grader from Keheley Elementary School learned she could attend this year, she jumped at the opportunity. Her family even changed their vacation plans so Izzy wouldn’t miss a day of the four-day program.

After her first day at the Academy, Vruno said his daughter was very excited about what she was learning and meeting new people.

He thinks the skills his daughter is building will “put her ahead of the pack” next school year.

Vruno appreciated the small class sizes and the amount of teaching and group time his daughter received during the academy, but there was one benefit of the program that he liked the most.

“She knew nobody [when she started],” Izzy’s dad recalled about her first day at the Academy.

However, Izzy soon made new friends. Vruno credits the summer program with enhancing his daughter’s people skills so she could build friendships with her campmates.

“You need those communications skills. You need to know how to meet people,” he added.

Bringing students together from elementary school’s across the district is also one of Sarah Kessel’s favorite parts of the academy. Kessel, CCSD Supervisor of Advanced Learning Programs, enjoys seeing the students make new friends, almost immediately, as they interact at the Academy.

“It also brings teachers together,” said Kessel, who serves as the CCSD Acting Administrator for the Summer Enrichment Academies. “It develops a professional learning community among teachers where they are sharing ideas, excitement and their passion.”

Like Kessel, Hollie Peterson’s smile widens when she sees friendships blossom out of the summer enrichment program, which she has overseen for three years as the director of the North Academy at Chalker Elementary School. During the school year, Peterson works as a Target teacher at Vaughan Elementary School. 

Peterson said by the end of the camp, the students have a new list of best friends and have already exchanged emails and phone numbers.

The theme of this year’s academy required campers to work together in groups to build Rube Goldberg machines, a complex contraption constructed out of simple machines to complete a simple task like turning a page in a book.

“I learned it takes a lot of teamwork and a lot of compromising,” explained Izzy, whose team built a machine to pop a balloon. “A lot of people had different ideas, so we had to combine them and compromise to come up with what we should do.”

Nicholas’s team built a dog washer. Like Izzy’s group, Nicholas and his teammates had to work through design flaws to make their machine work. Nicholas filmed his teammates with an iPad as they constructed the dog washer. He then produced an iMovie about his group’s Rube Goldberg machine to show how the dog washer machine worked, and the simple machines his teammates used.

Each group of students produced videos about their Rube Goldberg machines, and on the last day, all the campers gathered together to watch the videos.

In addition to building Rube Goldberg Machines, the enrichment academy also included rotations on improv acting, kids chess, math games and Rube Goldberg cartooning.

“We worked with Spheros, which are these cool little drones that are a sphere. You control them using an iPad,” Nicholas added.

Izzy’s favorite part of the week was when she used clues to unlock a box.

Parent Opal Patel thinks the Summer Enrichment Academy motivated her son, Krish, to create more. She described the program as a good extension of the Target program her son is in at Tritt Elementary School where he is a rising fourth grader.

She emphasized how much her son enjoyed the camp, since it allowed him to explore more concepts on his own.

Patel said, “After the first day, he told me, ‘I love this camp! It is great! It is awesome!’”

More students like Patel’s son may be able to participate in the Summer Enrichment Academy in the future.

“We started three years ago with 200 students in two locations,” Kessel explained. “Last year we jumped to 400, and this year we are at 500 students.”

Recognizing the academy’s popularity among parents, Kessel said they are looking to expand the program into the middle school level in the next couple of years.

According to Kessel, the academy provides parents an opportunity to extend their children’s education over the summer break with the help of experienced CCSD staff who know how to meet the needs of high-achieving students.

“You want to give your child all the opportunities possible to succeed in life and [the Summer Enrichment Academy] is one of those things,” added Izzy’s dad.