Academy attracts Mo.’s top teens

Program offers students a taste of college life, without the grades.
Thursday, June 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kara Oberkrom is finishing her final week at the Missouri Scholars Academy and isn’t quite ready to go home.

“There’s a sense of community that makes (the program) great,” said Kara, one of 330 high school juniors participating in the three-week academic program. The scholars academy, run by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is held each year on the MU campus and attracts teens and faculty from around the state.

The program is open to high school students who are among the top half-percent of their class. Public high schools can nominate one sophomore each year, though some larger schools may nominate more.

Students choose a major and a minor from four subjects — humanities, social studies, math or science. They spend three hours, six days a week, focusing on their major.

Each weekday, they also work on their minor and ways to address personal and social responsibilities.

A variety of classes are offered, such as Japanese culture, acting, creative writing and chemistry. There are no grades and no course credit, but students receive a certificate of commendation.

“At the academy, they can focus on learning without the pressure of grades and develop a better understanding of their strengths and talents while becoming more aware of the responsibility they have to use those abilities in a positive manner,” co-director David Welch said in an e-mail.

Kara, who attends Moberly High School, said the stress-free environment is a welcome experience.

The students stay in Mark Twain Residence Hall, experiencing dorm life with other scholars. Extracurricular activities range from Scrabble tournaments to dance lessons. “I think my favorite thing was learning to salsa dance,” Kara said.

One guest this summer was former world Scrabble champion Joel Wapnick. He spent time with the students and played against some in a Scrabble match.

The students can also take field trips with their classes. Kara’s botany class went to Devil’s Icebox and the rest of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, learning about the plant life there.

The only cost to students is personal expenses. The bulk of the cost is paid by the state, the Gifted Association of Missouri, the Missouri Scholars Academy Alumni Association and the Missouri Scholars Academy Development Fund.

The students will have a closing ceremony Saturday morning before heading home.

“I hope students leave their experience at the academy with a greater sense of self-assuredness, of self-validation, of self-esteem, and a humble appreciation for the talents they possess,” Welch said.

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