MARQUETTE - For a few weeks this summer, the average age of students on Northern Michigan University's campus will change drastically.
For the better part of six weeks, local elementary and middle school students will take part in the 2011 Summer College for Kids, a series of week-long enrichment classes for students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
"It's a wonderful time for them to explore," said Susan Nazarko, NMU's coordinator of conferences and pre-college programs. She has been organizing the College for Kids since 2002 and said the courses allow students an entertaining way to explore school subjects.
Elina Zhang, 5, left, Rachel Dodge, 6, center, and Colleen O'Donnell, 6, play a guessing game with leaves during a previous Fall Weekend College for Kids program in the Seaborg Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo)
"It's being a scientist," she said. "It's being an engineer."
Five week-long sessions will take place between June 20 and July 29 and class topics will range from the classic, like photography and drawing, to the surprisingly unique. Some of the more unusual sessions include CSI Seaborg Center, a basic forensics class; building bigger structures, where kids design and build huge structures; edible science, which shows kids interesting ways to combine food; and advanced rockets, where students work to launch complicated rockets.
While it is good for kids to have a chance to be in a college classroom, Nazarko said it's not the primary function of the College for Kids, a program that has been around in some form since the 1990s.
"They have the opportunity to be in our facilities, but I don't think that's the big goal," she said. "The big goal is to have a really great experience with science."
She said people often assume kids won't recall specific lessons learned at such a young age, but she always tries to stress how much the experience can mean to kids at a later date.
"Whatever knowledge they pick up - even if they forget it - at some point they're going to be in a classroom and they're going to remember being at College for Kids and something they learned there," Nazarko said.
The 32 separate classes are led by 15 local elementary and middle school teachers. After taking part in the program one year, teachers often return, according to Nazarko.
That is certainly true of Kristy Gollackner, an eighth-grade earth science and science exploratory teacher at Gwinn Middle School. This will be her second summer teaching at the College for Kids.
Gollackner, who will be teaching CSI Seaborg Center, appreciates the ability to work closely with students in small groups - kindergarten through second-grade classes are limited to 16 students; all others are capped at 20.
"The fun thing is that they are so excited about what they're doing that they don't realize how much they are learning," she said. "For educators, this is a great way to renew your enthusiasm and work with kids that are so excited to learn."
The cost of most sessions is $60, but a handful are $70. The fee pays for the program and funds teacher salaries, but not those of NMU staff members. Nazarko said the college for Kids typically pays for itself.
A few of the classes have filled up already, but Nazarko said there are still many spots available. Interested parties can sign up by calling NMU's Seaborg Center at 906-227-2002.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.