College for Kids summer enrichment program sees record attendance

More than 580 students take advanced, hands-on courses

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Drake Miller stands on the Coe College lawn with big ideas in his head and a remote-control device in his hands.

Fifty feet away sits the contraption he’s about to send airborne.

Drake, 10, is getting advice from his older brother Mason, 13, on how to fly the nearby drone.

The younger brother carefully pushes the left toggle switch on the remote control forward and the four propellers of the drone begin to spin. Mason pushes Drake’s hand to trigger more force on the toggle switch and the drone lifts off the ground.

The brothers are certainly having fun, but learning at the same time as part of this summer’s College for Kids program at Coe.

A record 583 students enrolled this year in the first two-week session at the Cedar Rapids-based college, said Susie Green, College for Kids director. The first session began June 20 wrapped up Friday. A second session runs July 11-22.

Now in its 29th year, the program is offered by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency. Participants pay a $215 tuition fee.

Gifted students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades — identified by test scores, through district gifted programs and teacher recommendations — are invited to the program and take three or four classes during their session. Family members are invited to visit classes on the final day.

Mason, of Excelsior Middle School, was happy to show his younger brother what he had learned.

“If I could, I’d like to take this class,” Drake said to his father, Ben, after taking the drone for a spin.

Mason was among students from 26 school districts participating, including 292 from Iowa City, 162 from Cedar Rapids, 133 from College Community and 122 from Linn-Mar.

Green said she hopes the advanced courses help students learn new skills while experiencing a college setting. “We want to enrich their experience and propel them to the next level,” she said. “Whether they’ve found that niche that impacts part of their future, or if they just know, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ ”

Course offerings include trendy topics like drones, biotechnology and web design, Green said, as well as staple classes, like dissection, chemistry and physics.

“The way school budgets have dwindled over the last three decades, some of those enrichment opportunities might not be available at schools the way they used to be,” she said.

Jim Jacobmeyer’s Design Squad class had students thinking creatively while engaging with engineering concepts. His students worked to solve simple problems, like ringing a bell, in the most complicated way they could.

“This group of kids is bright and smart and great to work with,” he said.

Students in one group taped materials to a wall in an effort to make their process more complicated. Tessa Delaney, 13, stood on top of a chair during class and rolled a small ball along a piece of cardboard taped to the wall.

It rolled into a line of dominoes, which knocked over another ball that sped through Styrofoam pool noodles that had been cut in half. Then, a zip line carried the ball to a stack of Jenga blocks, which knocked over a stick that hit a spinwheel and sent a golf ball rolling and landing on top of the bell, making it ring.

“Let’s just make this really complicated — that’s the purpose,” said Tessa, of Linn-Mar’s Oak Ridge Middle School. “We didn’t even know what we were doing when we started,”

Figuring out all of the steps in the process was challenging and taught Tessa about teamwork, she said. She said she expects to use what she learned as she works toward a career in design.

Tessa’s mother Lisa Delaney said her older daughter took this same class as a middle schooler.

“Everything she learned from College for Kids prepared her for where she is now,” Delaney said, whose older daughter recently graduated from Iowa State University with a design degree.

“I could just see how it built on itself from here.”

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