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Real World Challenges Help Young Scholars Learn

Irwin Goldberg
A student tests the capabilities of a landing device designed during the Young Scholars program

Every Friday morning, Mill Road Intermediate students come in an hour early to participate in the Young Scholars Program. Students taking part in these enrichment days have applied and been accepted to the program under the direction of Principal Dr. Brian Boyd.

The current session has 86 students participating, which is the largest group ever. Students join mixed-grade teams to collaborate on interdisciplinary real-world problems that demand critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance to solve. The activities allow students to challenge themselves beyond grade-level standards in science and mathematics.

Dr. Boyd started the Young Scholars began in 2012. Since the program’s inception, hundreds of Mill Road students have participated. This year, teachers Jami Craig and Caroline Milles and library teacher’s aide Chrystal Smith-Mineault are also involved in the morning enrichment program.

“The students come in excited and are very eager to get started each morning. They love the challenges and are energized by them,” noted Teacher Jami Craig. “One aspect of the program that I really love is that while students must apply, anyone who is interested is given the opportunity to try,” she added. “Students are encouraged to take intellectual risks, question assumptions, and develop the collaborative problem-solving skills necessary for future innovation," explained Principal Boyd.

So far, in week one, students have studied different types of number patterns, learned about the Fibonacci Sequence, and completed missing numbers from Pascal's Triangle. During week two, students learned about basic algebra principles, including variables and algebraic equations. On week three, students worked on a special NASA Challenge to build a landing device for animals sent to a fictional newly established Mars colony in 2035. The young engineers had to design a landing device from paper, straws, rubber bands, strings, balloons, and recyclable plastic bags. Students enjoyed designing and creating their prototypes and testing them from a height of 7 feet.

Fourth grader Declan Turley explained the program’s appeal. "I love being with my friends on Friday mornings and getting challenged. It's fun working in groups and sharing ideas, like our landing devices, with each other." Each week, there is a new theme, with more to come as the program continues through the end of January.

According to Dr. Boyd, "Unlike occasional pull-out gifted services, Young Scholars meets every week to provide consistently accelerated pace and elevated curricular concepts for math and science. Students design solutions and investigations while sharpening their abilities to reason, analyze, infer concepts, prove arguments, and think flexibly. They are encouraged to take intellectual risks, question assumptions, and develop the collaborative problem-solving skills necessary for future innovation."

"The students love the challenge and working  beyond their grade level,” he added.

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