|March 4, 2013 • VOL. 51, NO. 5 • Oakland, CA|
| Program looks for students
aspiring to be scholars
Cara Stanley, who directs the SPEAR Middle School Scholar Academy at the University of California at Berkeley, says the six-week summer program is looking for a specific student.
"Middle school is such a critical point for young people," she said. It's the time they "get turned off or excited" about learning.
From her vantage point as the director of the Student Learning Center and lecturer in African-American Studies, where her focus is on gender and black student identity, Stanley said she "started noticing a transactional spirit as opposed to transformational spirit" among students.
The transactional spirit sees learning as something of a checklist: Take a course, check it off the list; take a test, check it off.
Success at the university requires more than that. "They are expected to think and be reflective about what it is they're learning," she said.
The summer program SPEAR — Scholars Preparing for English, Arithmetic and Reading — is designed "to recapture the spirit and joy of learning" for students entering grades six through eight.
The SPEAR program offers an enriching learning experience and opportunities for scholars to "develop self-efficacy, resourcefulness and problem-solving strategies, while honing their scholarly identity," according to its website, with a focus on "building and honing student acumen in language arts, mathematics, public speaking, science, reading and writing across the curriculum."
This learning experience requires well-prepared instructors, Stanley said. Instructors must have at least three years' experience working with middle school students, and a master's degree in subject.
"Math teachers are mathematicians; science teachers are scientists," Stanley said. Literature teachers bring solid credentials in their field.
"They're able to excite the students about the discipline," she said. "Young people are so intellectually curious," she said. "When we bore them, they check out."
Stanley said the students create a learning community free of bullying; parents are not allowed on site until the open house.
It's a special challenge to engage middle school students. With their changing bodies and hormonal rushes, they are often grouchy.
But they are also "the most open and flexible," Stanley said.
The three years of the camp have been "a magical journey," Stanley said. She has been "extremely passionate about creating a multiracial, multiethnic environment."
The program, limited to 50 students at each grade level, draws about 50 percent of its students from public schools, with the remaining 50 percent from private and religious schools. Stanley said some of the pupils have come from St. Leo in Oakland and School of the Madeleine in Berkeley. The program draws students from throughout the Bay Area, from Corte Madera to Saratoga. Some students have come from out of state and spent summers with a relative; one was a child of a diplomat in Egypt.
"Moving through space with college students," with its home base in the Baptist seminary a few blocks off campus, students enjoy lunch on Faculty Glade. Excursions every Friday might take them to the Lawrence Hall of Science or various exhibits on the campus.
They take three core courses — and what Stanley calls "mental/physical agility" — which could include art, martial arts, dance or yoga.
Along the way, the program has "discovered some incredible artists," Stanley said and has encouraged parents to help their children develop these talents. Midterm and final narrative on how they are engaging in the discourse help develop the forward-looking students.
SPEAR offers a limited number of scholarships, first-come, first-served, working with the director of financial aid to assess need.
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