While some might prefer to spend their summers sleeping in or hanging out with friends, students enrolled in the Sherman Independent School District’s gifted and talented program have spent part of their vacation learning about a country that is quite literally on the opposite side of the world.


“For the last two weeks, these students have really been looking at every aspect of Indian culture,” Austin College Education Department Chair Julia Shahid said. “They’ve looked at the people, the language, how to count, dancing and food. They’ve looked at really all the things the Indian people do and thinking about how do those compare to what American people do.”


Thinking Camp is a long-standing collaboration between Sherman ISD and Austin College. The educational summer camp, founded in 2002 and hosted at Jefferson Elementary School, is led by a handful of Austin College graduate students and aims to teach the district’s elementary age students about a variety of countries, including those in Europe and Southeast Asia.


“We do have a global society, whether we like to admit it or not,” Shahid said. “So, the more we know about other people — and it’s not just India, it could be any country — we have more of an appreciation and a broader understanding.”


Shahid said before the partnership between the liberal arts college and the public school district was formed, AC’s education students had to simulate their lessons on campus and take turns practicing their teaching skills and playing the role of elementary students.


“That’s not the real deal,” Shahid said. “Coming here and teaching real students this material, seeing what works and doesn’t work and having that access to Sherman ISD is amazing. There is nothing I could provide for them that would be better than this experience, honestly. They have full responsibility for the implementation of this curriculum.”


AC student Hailey Clendennen led a lesson on India’s population and resources to a classroom full of students on Tuesday. She said running the activities in conjunction with a fellow classmate allowed both of the future educators to draw from each other’s strengths and strategies.


“It’s been really fun actually, because we have never seen each other teach,” Clendennen said. “So it’s really fun coming together and learning together.”


Clendennen said it was a challenge to teach the students about a new country and culture that she was still learning about herself. But she said her summer camp students were able to learn a lot in their two weeks together and that gave her a big boost of confidence.


“It is hard, because we don’t know everything about India, but we’re trying,” Clendennen said. “And they’re learning a lot, so that helps and kind of encourages us to keep going and shows that we’re doing OK.”


And if 10-year-old Max Dowd’s recap of India’s growing pains were any indication of the educators’ effectiveness, they were doing just fine.


“We learned that the population is really high, but the land isn’t big enough and they don’t have a lot of resources for it,” Dowd said. “And the animals are having to move into smaller areas because of all the trees being cut down.”


Dowd said while many of his other classmates might have the luxury of laying in bed until late in the day, he was more than happy to spend a portion of his summer learning about the world’s ways of life beyond Sherman.


“I love learning, so I like to go to this sort of camp,” Dowd said. “It means you get to learn new things about stuff you probably wouldn’t learn in normal school.”