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Beautiful Minds

Alissa Widman Neese • Mar 3, 2014 at 9:10 PM

A humdrum curriculum just doesn’t cut it for the area’s brightest minds.

So on Thursday, with help from a college criminal justice instructor, fifth-grader Tamara Knight and her classmates pieced together a series of clues from a hypothetical crime scene.

They took on the challenging role of detectives in a classic case of “whodunnit”

“I really don’t think it’s coffee cart Doug,” Tamara said. “I mean, what’s his motive?”

Across the hall, another group of students analyzed a life-sized replica of a human skeleton.    They passed around its disassembled parts, while assistant professor Seth Gardner recited various parts of the brain. He encouraged freestyle discussion and curious questions.

Students will experience dozens of similar exercises at the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies this school year.

In mid-February, the school for gifted students debuted its Dorn Fellowship Series, a one-of-its-kind collaboration with four instructors from Bowling Green State University main campus and BGSU Firelands.

A $500,000 startup grant from the Dorn Foundation will fund the program for the next five years.

Want to enroll?

The Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies is now accepting applications.

•Obtain an application on the district’s website, sandusky-city.k12. oh.us, or at the board office, 407 Decatur St.

•To qualify, students must be in third grade through seventh grade and must be identified as “gifted,” according to state standards. Testing will be arranged after applying if test results aren’t already on file.

•Students not currently attending Sandusky Schools must also complete an open enrollment form.

•Call Julie McDonald, chief academic officer, at 419-984-1022 for more information.

The college faculty members enhance curriculum by providing on-site learning activities for students twice per week, such as Thursday’s criminal justice and human anatomy lessons. They’ll also take students on various field trips throughout the community, including trekking to their respective college campuses.

Just two weeks into the program, instructor Tracey McGinley, who typically lectures at BGSU Firelands, said the elementary-aged children aren’t the only ones learning.

“I’m adapting my hands-on lessons to these classes, to provide them with the foundations of critical thinking,” McGinley said. “It’s wonderful to listen to their questions. I love it”

Sandusky Schools opened the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies in August as the area’s only full-time gifted school. It currently enrolls about 75 students in fourth through sixth grade, but will expand its offerings to third-graders and seventh-graders this fall.

All students are currently housed at the old Jackson Junior High School building, but incoming seventh-graders will remain at the middle school building.

Students from any area district can enroll in the regional center, which is a free, state-funded school. Its students are considered Sandusky Schools students and can participate in all district extracurricular activities.

Ultimately, the school’s goal is to provide practical, engaging learning experiences so students can connect their lessons to the community, principal Tara Toft said.

They may be in little bodies, but their intelligence is well beyond their years,” Toft said. “These unique opportunities will hopefully get them thinking about what interests them, and possibly inspire them to pursue their future careers”

The students certainly know the best is yet to come.

Sixth-grader Tyler Franklin, who first met his college-level instructor Friday, said he’s excited for her environmental science classes.

“We’re going to make our own soaps without using harmful chemicals,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like that, so I’m really looking forward to it and seeing how it’s better for the environment”

Sixth-grader Gianna Colatruglio, meanwhile, said she’s anticipating intriguing animal dissections during marine biology.

“Some of my classmates think it’s gross, but I’m excited” she said.

In addition to Gardner and McGinley, main campus lecturer Matthew Partin and BGSU Firelands instructor Subhalakshmi Nagarajan will teach at the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies this year.

By next school year, the center will recruit two additional instructors to teach the new third grade and seventh grade classes. Any college faculty members can apply.

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