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Engaged, insightful students try new things at CFK

Barry McNamara
Throughout the final day of College For Kids, students and their family members had a shared learning experience, including this classroom scene from "American Lego Warriors."
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – Teachers old and young were excited to work with 270 talented pre-high school students at College For Kids, which wrapped up another successful year at Monmouth College on Friday, June 22.

“We had a great two weeks,” said Kathy Mainz, who has overseen the summer enrichment program since 2008. “Seeing the excitement that these kids walked in with on Day 1, and then seeing 10 days later that they walked in with that same level of excitement, that was just wonderful to see.”

Teachers are a big reason the program has thrived for almost four decades.

“What makes College For Kids work is that we have incredible teachers,” said Mainz, whose full-time job is serving as Monmouth’s biology laboratory manager. “We have teachers from Galesburg to Kewanee, and from Monmouth-Roseville and West Central. They have a variety of interests and expertise, and everybody brings their ‘A’ game.”

One of those incredible teachers was Monmouth art professor Janis Wunderlich, an accomplished ceramicist whose works have been exhibited throughout the nation. She led a class on ceramics and pottery, helping her students learn some science while making their own art.

Another Monmouth professor, Wendi Bolon of Political Economy and Commerce, taught “Build a Better Business.”

“They learned some entrepreneurial skills and business concepts such as how to set a price and how to market a service,” said Bolon.

One of Bolon’s class sessions featured such businesses as Camden’s Dog Walking Service and Boarding and CC Café. Another student set up a movie theatre to promote his original film, The Ultimate Sith, a Star Wars-themed Lego production that was screened at the end of the class.

Open to qualifying students who are rising fourth- through ninth-graders, College For Kids offers three classes per student. Students choose from such subjects as fine arts, languages, computers, math, business, literature, writing, communication, logic, science and social studies. Classes are held from 9 a.m. to noon, and students move on their own from classroom to classroom, mostly within the Center for Science and Business.

Hannah Rillie, who graduated summa cum laude from Monmouth in May with a degree in classics, taught “Ancient Art” and “Mythical Madness.” This was her first year working at College For Kids.

“The students are really engaged and really insightful with their questions,” she said. “It’s cool to see them get so excited about learning.”

Rillie quickly learned the students’ capabilities. Students absorbed her two-week lesson plan in the first four days and were eager for more.

Grace Young also made her College For Kids teaching debut. The recent Monmouth-Roseville High School graduate worked with college student and Monmouth-Roseville grad Emma Willhardt to teach a theatre class.

“It was so fun seeing their faces light up when we showed them what’s in the theatre,” said Young. “That’s why we do it.”

On the final day of College For Kids, Young and Willhardt’s students staged performances of The Giant’s Wife and Captain Cully.

Retired junior high teacher Tom Best, who has also lectured in the College’s history department, has taught at College For Kids for about 30 of the 38 years it has been held on campus.

“It’s just a great opportunity to work with young people who are excited to try new things and who find history fascinating,” said Best.

Best said his involvement in College For Kids is a labor of love, but it’s also a lesson on the level of sophistication of the courses available.

He taught a class on the Civil War, as well as a session on “Backyard History” and one on baseball, where students played the sport using 19th-century rules and were also exposed to stickball and the history of some of baseball’s all-time greats.

“You’d do this whether you got paid for it or not,” Best told parents who attended the final day of his Civil War class and sat with their students. “Teaching the Civil War is one of my passions.”

He told those parents that he uses several of the same activities that his college students do, including analyzing Civil War letters. Some of those letters were written by Josiah Moore, a Monmouth College graduate, who was captain of a regiment in the war.

“This exercise gave the students a taste of what college students do in class with regard to primary sources,” he said.