“What keeps it going is the love of young people for learning and being with other young people who love to learn,” said Dr. Julia Link Roberts, Executive Director of the WKU Center for Gifted Studies, describing the summer program for the 35th Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth (VAMPY).
Students from across the state and nation travel to Bowling Green, KY, to visit Western Kentucky University and participate in VAMPY. During the three-week camp, 200 students in grades 7-10 attend class for approximately six hours a day, take field trips near and far, and participate in evening socials. According to Roberts, at the end of the camp, some students will learn an amount of information equivalent to a year in school and have made friendships that last a lifetime.
“The friend part of it is incredibly important. You can learn from others who are just as interested and as capable of learning at a high level as you are,” Roberts said.
Jocelyn Martin, a third-year VAMPY student from Russell, KY, shared similar thoughts as Roberts. “I attended VAMPY because it has become a second home to me, and my fellow campers have become my family.”
Martin’s classmate, Chloe Banaszak, added, “The community here makes me feel like I belong, and I truly feel like this is my home.” 2018 also marks the third year for Banaszak, who comes from Crestwood, KY. “So, I come back because I feel like I’m in my element here, and I’m truly happy here.”
Both Martin and Banaszak participate in Justin Mitchell’s Pop Culture class at VAMPY. Mitchell teaches 8th grade Social Studies at Franklin-Simpson Middle School and serves as their Gifted & Talented Coordinator. Walking into Mitchell’s class, you will see thirteen young people surrounded by decades of pop culture history displayed around the room.
“It is an American history class through the lens of pop culture,” Mitchell said. Through this subject, Mitchell teaches the history of America by using various genres of music, film, sports, literature, fashion, and fads. “… oftentimes within the regular school system we have standards that we have to address, and we sometimes miss out on some of the things that make history interesting and unites different groups. So, this is a way to hopefully make history more engaging for students, something that can probably relate to.”
And Jocelyn Martin appreciates this approach. “We learn about pop culture throughout each decade and we analyze how and why each aspect of our culture changes,” Martin said.
Mitchell, who works with gifted and talented students during the school year, described the VAMPY program as being on another scale. “Students want to be in your class. You aren’t constrained by standards or the bell system. The conversation does not have to stop after the class period,” he said. “It can go on really as long as we want it to. Their interests are usually sort of wider than normal students. Their intensity for discussion is greater as well.”
From the way Banaszak describes her experience, Pop Culture has proven to be a valuable experience. She said, “In Pop Culture, I am learning so many good debate skills, and along with that we are debating what person, event, object, and entertainment is most culturally influential. We also get to study how the pop culture trends have changed throughout time which is very interesting.”
In addition to Pop Culture, other VAMPY courses include Ancient Civilizations, Arabic, Astronomy, Biomechanics, Chemistry, Computer Science, DNA and Genetics,
, Humanities, Mathematics, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, Physics, Presidential Politics, Problems You’ve Never Solved Before, and Writing.
“I’m getting to learn about older civilizations and getting to talk about philosophy,” said Jackson Hayes, first year VAMPY participant from Shelbyville, KY.
Hayes attends Tracy Inman’s Humanities course. Inman serves as the Associate Director for The Center for Gifted Studies. This course analyzes the changing interpretations and philosophies of different generations, different cultures, and different times. Students in the course use classical literary works to explore and interpret literature and the humanities focused on the afterlife.
During the first week at VAMPY, the students decorated canopic jars, which are part of Egyptian history. Inman said there are similar activities sprinkled throughout the three weeks to add to the lesson.
“I am learning about the culture of the world from humanities class. So far, we have discussed the different kinds of evil and some main points on some of the first religions and cultures,” said Annika Reed, second year VAMPY participant from Edmonton, KY.
The Center for Gifted Studies provides a full learning experience for students at VAMPY. Humanities students will travel to a mosque, monastery, and synagogue. Pop Culture students will visit the Daily News, WKU PBS, and Washington D.C. Mitchell’s class will prepare and present reports in front of their chosen item at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Museum. VAMPY students may have presentations, reports, and tests depending on the course.
In addition to the courses and field trips, the selection of teachers, teaching assistants, and counselors play a role in providing a good experience for the students.
“We have selected teachers that are going to be outstanding. Each teacher has a teaching assistant, and a class is no more than 16 students. So, when each teacher has a teaching assistant, you have a ratio of about two adults for every 16 kids,” Roberts said. “I select the counselors among the applicants. This year for example, each of them have been to one of the programs. They are college students; they are college graduates.”
Roberts added that the staff plans on an ongoing basis. In addition, she meets with the camp counselors every morning. “I am pretty aware of what’s going on because, well, you need to be,” she said.
VAMPY students must have a qualifying SAT or ACT score as a seventh grader or adjusted scores for an older student, meet eligibility for the requested course, and be eligible for a talent search, such as Duke Talent Identification Program.
Interested students can visit the VAMPY website at www.wku.edu/gifted/vampy to learn more about application fees and the next deadline.