By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
You’d think kids would want to stay as far away as possible from the classroom for summer vacation.
But then again, “Kids Kollege” isn’t your typical educational setting.
More than 150 kids, ages 6-12 years, from Pulaski County and other areas made the trip to Somerset Community College over the last two weeks for the Kids Kollege program.
Kids Kollege, popular throughout its 34-year run, exposes children and pre-teens to a number of educational activities — but with a bit more flexibility.
“It’s just fun,” said Andrea Bower, who taught this year’s “Wacky World of Science” class. “It’s hands-on ... I try to find hands-on stuff for the kids.”
Bower introduced her students to the complexities of chemical compositions and mixtures by helping them create a number of objects during the two-week period. The most popular item by far was the “Monster Slime” — a simple combination of water, Elmer’s glue and Borax.
“They can make a mess,” said Bower. “It’s not your typical classroom atmosphere.”
Other creations included bouncy-balls, something called “fluffy stuff,” which is simply shaving cream and corn starch, and moon sand.
Jil Swearingen, the director of Kids Kollege, said since the program began in 1979 she’s seen whole generations come to SCC to take in a bit of education with a twist.
“That’s one of the things that is so neat,” said Swearingen, who noted she ran into one of her former Kids Kollege students several years ago who had taken a radio class (during which the class went on-air as KIDS Radio). The student, now an adult, told her that class sparked such a passion in him that he pursued a career in broadcast radio.
“He loved that class so much, he’s now a DJ,” said Swearingen.
And that’s the allure of Kids Kollege. Kids are given opportunities to learn through physical fitness, computer classes, art, and even specialty classes such as a mind games class that was scheduled for this year.
Each summer, Swearingen said she and other program coordinators start from scratch and seek to bring the same topics to the kids, but in different ways.
And many kids come year after year, until they “age out” after their 12th birthday.
“I love the kids, and some of them, they come all six years,” said Swearingen.
This year’s Kids Kollege program included Bower’s science class, a “Picasso’s Pals” art class, a computer class, a “Fun and Fit” class, a tennis class, and the mind games class.
This year was the first year at Kids Kollege for “Picasso’s Pals” instructor Konnie Massey-Galan.
“I love it,” said Massey-Galan, who has tutored students in art for years and worked with Girl Scout troops during summer camps for two decades. “You’re got kids who come here who’s parents were here.”
Massey-Galan worked over the two-week Kids Kollege program, which ended on June 27, to teach students about the responsibilities of art.
“I teach them how to actually paint,” said Massey-Galan.
Many students are given limited time with the paint brush in schools, thanks to budget cuts and emphasis on core subjects such as math, science and English. That’s why the paint brush is a foreign object for many students on the first day of Kids Kollege.
But by the end, Massey-Galan said students had learned how to dip their brushes in paint, how to get their supplies out and clean up after themselves, and more.
“From the first day, they had responsibilities,” said Massey-Galan.
Swearingen said she’s hopeful Kids Kollege continues to be a popular summer-time destination for kids for years to come, and she said the program’s expansion from its humble beginnings has helped keep the program thriving.
“We started out with just a computer camp,” said Swearingen. “It just kind of evolved over the years.”
Those involved with the program have even seen kids from out-of-state making the trip down to visit family during Kids Kollege to ensure they get a spot on the roster. This year, students from Washington, D.C. and even Chicago, Ill. were in attendance.
“I hope we’ll be doing this for years to come,” said Swearingen.