This summer, the kids are alright

Queen’s Enrichment Studies Unit hosts the next generation of great minds with educational programs for Grades 5 to 12

ESU students can enjoy shopping on Princess St., classes on campus and meals in the cafeteria.
ESU students can enjoy shopping on Princess St., classes on campus and meals in the cafeteria.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of esu.queensu.ca

“Oh my God!” my Grade 8 self squeals, “It says ‘ArtSci ’98’ had SEX in this room!”

This particular use of dormitory beds was one of many enlightening experiences—albeit less tasteful than most—I had as a 14 year-old student participating in the E=MC² program at Queen’s in 2002.

E=MC², which stands for Enrichment Mini-Course, was created in 1987 as a part of Department of Enrichment Studies with the goal of introducing potential recruits to life and learning at the University.

The idea was to attract gifted students to Queen’s who might not otherwise consider university-level studies, or who might be financially unable to do so.

Initially just for high-school students, the program’s focus shifted in 1997—when it was taken over by the Continuing and Distance Studies department—and now includes programs for students as young as 11 years old.

For up to seven days, intellectually advanced students from around Canada—mostly Ontarians—can head Queen’s and enjoy life as a faux-undergrad. Students take six hours of class per day while living in Victoria Hall and have the opportunity to check out the sights and sounds of the University and Kingston.

Students choose one or two tracks, which each feature two courses, in advance of attending the program. The tracks are as varied as engineering and physical health and education, and courses run the gamut from “Intro to Canadian Law” and “Photography” to “Mathventure” and “Psychology of Criminal Behaviour.”

Mike Wendling, ArtSci ’10 and assistant activities co-ordinator for the Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU), said the program’s goal is to provide younger students with a taste of university life.

“A lot of the courses are things they wouldn’t see in high school. We’ve got stuff like robotics and pathology courses which the kids really seem to enjoy,” he said.

Wendling added while the focus has shifted from recruitment for Queen’s, the courses still serve their original mandate of attracting promising young students to the University.

“It serves a purpose of recruiting kids for sure, just because it’s such a great experience,” he said.

Some of this year’s ESU staff chose Queen’s as a result of attending the program in high school, Wendling said.

“It really makes kids want to come to Queen’s,” he said. “On a more micro level though, I think its purpose is to give the kids a feel of being away from home and what university in general is like.”

Operating like a learning-oriented summer camp, students take classes for six hours per day, with breaks for free time, activities and meals.

“The students love the caf’s all-you-can-eat factor,” Wendling said.

Although students spend most of the day taking classes in their chosen tracks, Wendling said there are a lot of opportunities for campers to explore Queen’s and Kingston beyond the academic realm.

“We’re showcasing Queen’s as a part of the Kingston community, which I think is a hugely important part of coming to Queen’s,” he said. “We try to show the University as a part of Kingston.”

Some typical activities for ESU students include shopping on Princess Street, an evening boat cruise around the Thousand Islands and a photo scavenger hunt around the city.

“We also have smaller, more local activities,” Wendling said. “[The students can play] sports—we have a fitness boot camp that’s new this year—or watch movies and play board games. There’s active and non-active stuff. We try to get something that everybody can enjoy.”

Jason Kramer, a 17 year-old high school student from the Niagara region, has attended E=MC² for the past four years.

He said he found out about the program in Grade 9 when his guidance counsellor recommended it to several “honour roll type kids,” and he’s been coming back ever since.

“I really loved the opportunity to try things you would otherwise not necessarily try in high school,” he said.

Asked to describe the E=MC² program in a word, Kramer had trouble choosing just one.

“I think of it as a 360-degree experience—it’s about more than just the academic side of it. There’s all the activities, meeting the people, and there’s so much more to it than just the courses.”

Kramer, who graduates this year, said he isn’t sure what university he’ll be attending in the fall. He said he jumped at the chance to take sports psychology and physical education-based courses after he couldn’t fit kinesiology into his schedule at school.

Kramer wants to be a lawyer, and has his post-secondary career planned out, thanks in part to the ESU.

“What I’m really looking at is doing law, and for my undergrad I plan to study business,” he said. “Two years ago I took the law course here and that confirmed that I want to do law for sure.” Kramer said the program has adapted since he started attending ESU three years ago, and has offered different courses each year.

“I think you get different things out of it every time,” he said. “When I came in Grades 9 and 10, I wasn’t looking at it as a way to experience Queen’s as a potential university or taking courses to follow up on in the future.” In recent years, Kramer has looked at E=MC² more strategically, with school and career prospects in mind.

It’s not all planning for a law degree, though. Kramer said he’s made friends from across Ontario he’s kept in touch with, adding that there is a sense of camaraderie on campus that extends to the supervisors and instructors, known as Red Shirts.

“Some of the Red Shirts have been here as long as I have,” he said. “I know them by name and they know me now. I feel a lot more familiar with everybody now that I’m in the upper grades. … The program is full of great people, and we’ve all had some really good times here.”

Karen Daigle, B.Ed ’09, teaches a marketing course for the ESU. She said the intense class time is only part of an overall experience for students.

“It allows them to pick a topic that they’re interested in and kind of dive into it at a university setting,” she said. “It’s an introduction to higher level education, but it’s also social networking. It’s not just the classes … activities in the evening are also a highlight. It’s about a holistic experience. The kids are enriched and that’s what they’re coming here for, but I think they enjoy the camp as a whole.”

Daigle said robotics, engineering and digital recording and songwriting are some of the program’s most popular courses.

“They have a new one this year for E=MC²—mural painting. Together they’ve made an entire mural that’s about six boards long,” she said. “A lot of the courses give you something to show off at the end.”

The available courses are the same, regardless of age group attending in a given session, but are adapted to suit the needs of the various age-oriented programs.

“I think [for the younger kids] it’s a shorter program in general,” Daigle said. “You cut out some of the more advanced stuff and just keep it simple for them. Ultimately, a lot of the complexity comes from the kids themselves, so it’s not difficult.”

Daigle said every session she taught was different—an aspect of the program she enjoyed.

“On the first day of class we had a little introduction to marketing, then the kids split into teams and picked a random product out of a bag and had to make up a thirty-second commercial to advertise that item,” she said. “Last week a group came up with a finger exerciser for text messages so you could text faster. They come up with really random, hilarious things.”

Daigle added that the ESU has been beneficial on a personal level, affording her and her students an opportunity to practice for the future.

“I think it’s helpful as someone who wants to go into teaching,” she said. “I met people in the program who’d finished teacher’s college who gave me good advice along the way. It helps to work with a group of people who are interested in the same things.”

A great deal of learning at ESU takes place outside a traditional classroom setting, Daigle said.

“As part of my marketing class, there’s a trip downtown to do a scavenger hunt where the kids find examples of good—or bad—marketing. It’s very dynamic. They’re always up doing something.”

As my conversation with Kramer came to a close, he tried again to describe his ESU experience.

“About that word you were asking for? Exciting is half of it, and engaging is the other part. There’s always something to do.”

Classes are in session

The ESU runs the following camps, open to students from across Canada: ABC Field Trip Central is a highly motivating and innovative program for grade five and six students of all abilities. The students participate in a series of fun and interactive classes that are a direct extension of the Ontario elementary curriculum.

Seven-Eight Enrichment Day Studies (SEEDS) is for students in grade seven and eight who are within commuting distance of Queen’s University. Students attending this program study one track of courses over their three-day visit. Participants are given the opportunity to experience the fun of interactive learning while exploring a new subject area.

Seven-Eight Enrichment Day Studies In Residence (SIR) is an in-residence program for highly-motivated above-average and gifted grade seven and eight students, and operates similarly to SEEDS.

Enrichment Mini-Course (E=MC²) provides motivated above-average and gifted students in grades nine to 12 the unique opportunity to come to Queen’s and study a thematic track of their choosing at an advanced level for one week.

—Source: esu.queensu.ca

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