Dozens of elementary students are nearing the end of a two-week journey through Southeast Asia, a trip that didn’t require the children to leave the classroom. In partnership with Austin College, gifted and talented second to fifth graders in the Sherman Independent School District attended Thinking Camp at Jefferson Elementary School.

Dozens of elementary students are nearing the end of a two-week journey through Southeast Asia, a trip that didn’t require the children to leave the classroom. In partnership with Austin College, gifted and talented second to fifth graders in the Sherman Independent School District attended Thinking Camp at Jefferson Elementary School.


The program, now in its 14th year, began last week and puts Austin College graduate students at the teaching helm. From 8:30 a.m. to noon, the 50 children were guided through a different country each day, like Vietnam and Thailand, as a frame to explore related topics in science and social studies.


"The take-aways are a much better appreciation for people in other parts of the world, and they see people are more alike than different," Julia Shahid, professor of education at Austin College, said.


The camp’s theme changes each year as past Austin College classes create the curriculum. Graduate students in the Austin Teacher Program form the plans and engage the children with hands-on learning experiences, Shahid said. The program’s goal is to boost the graduate students’ confidence in running a classroom and create understanding that they can integrate studies in meaningful ways to captivate the children, she said.


"Our students teach these elementary kids for the entire morning," Shahid said. "The students in Sherman ISD have access to our kids in a wonderful, enriched learning environment, so these kids are learning and my students are learning how to teach."


For the children, Shahid said, they examine essential questions like how do they know people through their food, how do they know people through the way they celebrate, what’s similar, what’s different and where these places are located on the globe.


Levi Ullah-Commons, a Sherman ISD student, said he learned about how elephants roam the streets in parts of Thailand, he created paper-crane crafts and his class conducted an experiment with Diet Coke and Mentos. He said the camp breaks up the summertime tedium.


"At my house I really don’t get to do much, so I always look forward to coming back," Ullah-Commons said. "Everything they do here is fun; I have a good time."


Cyndi Petray, a gifted and talented program facilitator for Sherman ISD, said the program is a win-win situation for both the district and Austin College. She said the number of students who can participate is dependent on how many graduate students are enrolled in the Austin College course. Shahid and Petray observe and support the graduate students, but they stand back and let the graduate students lead, she said.


"For our gifted and talented kids especially, they get bored over the summer," Petray said. "They have little minds that are just constantly working. They really need something extra. … It gives them something really productive to do in the summer."


Four graduate students — Jessica Barber, Bri Harvey, Reygan Hollman and Erika Zapata — led the two classes during the two weeks. Hollman said from actually teaching, she has learned classroom management skills and how to deal with conflicts between children and she has just grown as a teacher.


"It’s a different experience," Hollman said. "We’re normally student teachers, so it’s a set curriculum to follow but we have creative control. We can basically do whatever we want as it pertains to the country."


Petray said children gain a lot by examining other cultures. She said they gain better understanding by seeing how people think and live differently throughout the world.


"Our world keeps getting smaller, so we definitely want them to experience that and experience things that are different from them — not just what they encounter everyday," Petray said.