July 13, 2012

Partnership benefits high school students

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Dozens of high school students will be elbows deep in intense science study this summer.

They will look at the age and health of trees through borings, dissect tadpoles, analyze water samples and enjoy various other hands-on learning experiences at “The Egyptian Experience.”  The camp, which is a partnership between Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Egyptian High School in Tamms, runs July 16-20 at the University and July 23-27 in Tamms. 

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to attend some of the activities for stories, photographs and video.  Good opportunities in Carbondale for media coverage include:

•  Team building at Touch of Nature Environmental Center (about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road) with zip line and pamper pole activities, July 16, about 5 p.m.

•  Tadpole study and dissection, July 17, 1:15-3:15 p.m., Life Science II, Room 303.

•  Water sampling and study, July 19, 1:15-3:15 p.m., southwest corner of campus lake near the walkover bridge.

•  Tree coring and examination, July 19, 3:30-4:30 p.m., beginning outside Faner Hall.

There will also be media opportunities July 23-27 when the camp moves to Egyptian High School.  Media are welcome at the open house and project presentations set for 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, July 27.  Or, contact David Ardrey at 618/453-4083 or dardrey@siu.edu.

The partnership started in summer 2011 as the Egyptian High School Summer Enrichment Program. The College of Education and Human Services at SIU Carbondale, along with the Division of Continuing Education, joined with the high school to provide two weeks of learning activities ranging from cooking and technology to literacy and character education.  The relationship continued afterward through a variety of activities, according to David Ardrey, director of school partnerships and outreach for the College of Education and Human Services. Egyptian High School received a state School Improvement Grant to fund the various aspects of the program.

The high school students, under the direction of faculty and students from the University, created TREC (Trust, Respect, Esteem and Caring), a student-run group focusing on social and emotional learning with the goal of improving the school climate and culture, Ardrey said.  The teens themselves came up with those four core values.  About 30 students set about making positive changes.  They worked with a team led by Cameron Carlson, assistant professor of educational leadership in the University’s Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education, to enhance their school and learning environment. 

Funding from the School Improvement Grant also provided a school counseling intern and an undergraduate science intern from SIU Carbondale who worked with the high school.  Ardrey said the University partnered with The Freedom Riders Foundation to bring founder Erin Gruwell to the high school and meet with students.  They plan a continuing relationship with Gruwell.

In April, TREC leaders enjoyed a two-day retreat at Touch of Nature Environmental Center, celebrating the accomplishments and positive change at Egyptian High School and making plans for the future.  There was also a two-week PSAT boot camp for high school juniors, preparing them for the big test. 

The Freshman/Sophomore Academy in June drew a sizeable crowd, primarily incoming freshmen, for a program focused on success in high school.

“The message was, ‘What you do from this point forward matters, it really makes a difference.’  The program was a big success, reaching out to more than 30 students,” Ardrey said.

The partnership continues with the 2012 summer camp. 

“This year, we want the teens to experience learning in a different way,” Ardrey said.  He and SIU alumna and Carbondale teacher Meredith McClay are co-directors for the 2012 camp, built largely around an outdoor science lab and oral history project.

Around campus, the 43 teens will research creek beds, tree trails, tadpoles and their relationship to the environment, and much more.  They will learn about levee systems, including the one surrounding their school and how decades ago floodwaters destroyed their school.  They will look at the flooding in Olive Branch and plans to relocate the town.  And they will create an oral history project about flooding in Southern Illinois and its impact.  Ardrey said it’s even possible the Library of Congress could catalogue their project. 

There will also be visits to the University Museum, John A. Logan Museum and to Morris Library’s Special Collections where they will don white gloves and learn how to properly view, handle and set up displays.  During the second week, they will create projects and displays highlighting what they have learned and on the final day, will showcase their efforts for family and friends.

“Throughout this camp, they’ll discover where they live, who they are, what the school and community mean to each other and the social and societal impacts of the environment and what happens with it.  Every year the environment affects these students.  Now, they’ll better understand all of those relationships,” Ardrey said.

The program involves Egyptian High School teachers along with about 30 University faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of academic units including curriculum and instruction, educational administration and higher education, geography, zoology and agriculture.  Undergraduate Admissions, Information Technology and the Division of Continuing Education are also part of the program.

The results of the University/Egyptian partnership are already obvious, Ardrey said. 

“Test scores have shown significant improvement, students understand the importance of attendance and the attitude, school climate and culture for both students and teachers is improving.  TREC (trust, respect, esteem and caring) is truly making a difference,” Ardrey said.

For more information about the Egyptian Experience or other initiatives linking SIU Carbondale with schools throughout the region, contact Ardrey at 618/453-4083 or by emailing dardrey@siu.edu.