Danville Kids University holds second graduation

November 24, 2003|HERB BROCK

Scores of youngsters lined the walls outside the gym. Several of them were nervous, tugging on their blue mortar board caps as they waited with their classmates for the procession into the gym, which was packed with hundreds of family members and friends.

This scene of pre-graduation ceremony anticipation occurred Saturday. If you check your calendar, Saturday was Nov. 21, hardly a date that prods gift store and card shop owners to make sure they have enough graduation merchandise in stock. May or June, not November, is supposed to be commencement time.

But what occurred Saturday morning in the gym at Bate Middle School was a bona fide graduation, although a unique one. It was a ceremony honoring 73 third- and fourth-graders from Danville's three elementary schools for their successful completion of coursework at Danville Kids University.

Saturday's event was the second graduation in the two-year history of DKU, a special eight-week program conducted Saturdays at Bate designed to provide intense but entertaining courses for largely high-achieving students who are interested in bolstering their already considerable academic skills.


The program, which is staffed by about a half dozen Danville school teachers and student mentors from Bate and other Danville schools, started as an "idea" born at a community education conference in December 2002. It became a one-year pilot program of the Danville Board of Education in the 2002-03 school year, and now, thanks to a three-year $169,000 grant recently awarded to the Danville district, has become almost a permanent innovative education program of the district.

Those responsible for landing the program and overseeing its development include gifted and talented education coordinator Mardi Montgomery, elementary education director Sandy Embree, Cliff Dunne of Families First Family Resource Center, and Kathy Belcher, local community education coordinator.

"This has not only been a vital learning experience but it also has been fun and festive," said Danville Superintendent Bob Rowland in his address to the graduates and their parents, other family members and friends. "It started as a good idea that we worked with and adapted to our elementary schools, developed a proposal and presented it to the board, which approved it."

The upward spiral of the DKU's development from an idea to a full-fledged university for elementary school students was reflected in the theme for this semester's program: "Soaring to New Heights." The aviation theme was carried out in courses and in field trips, including one to the flight museum in Lexington, said Montgomery.

The theme also was reflected in a dance number performed at the graduation ceremony by several of the graduates to the song, "I Believe I Can Fly."

Two of the students who sprouted their intellectual wings during the last eight weeks were Toliver Elementary School third-graders Antonio Bacca and Jodi Gay. They were interviewed in a Bate hallway right before they joined the procession into the gym.

"I decided to get into the university so I could learn more things," said Jodi. "I especially wanted to learn more science and math."

Jodi hopes her hardwork at DKU, Toliver and throughout the rest of her life as a student will result in a career as "some sort of teacher." Her classmate, Antonio, has not yet decided what adulthood holds for him careerwise. In the meantime, he's considering two very different paths.

"I came to the university to improve my reading skills and also to do more study in math," he said. "I've learned a lot, and I've also had a lot of fun. This program shows that learning really can be fun."

As for career options, Antonio would continue to have fun in at least one of the two occupations he's pondering.

To the time-honored career question asked of kids, "What do you want to be when you grow up," Antonio replied: "I'd like to be either an anesthesiologist or a bowler."

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