Summer program allows gifted students, teachers to 'FLEX' mental muscles

The School of Education's FLEX Program offers academically gifted students from the Alamance-Burlington School System the opportunity to learn fresh, engaging lessons from M.Ed. and gifted licensure candidates

The students in Cheryl Ramsey's class are learning about customs and cultures from around the world, and their journey took them across the Atlantic Ocean – or to the Moseley Center kitchen – to learn about African cuisine.​

"I'm hoping they're getting the experience of doing something completely different that's not just learning in a classroom," said Ramsey, a gifted education licensure candidate participating in the School of Education's FLEX Program. "We're hoping to tap into all the interests the students have." 

The FLEX (Formative Learning Experiences) Program is a summer enrichment experience for academically gifted students from the Alamance-Burlington School System. The program provides 80 rising third- to eighth-grade students a unique learning experience while home for the summer.

FLEX also serves as an internship for graduate students in Elon’s Collaboration, Consultation and Innovation capstone course that is part of the Master's of Education curriculum. The candidates are licensed teachers who are either pursuing a special licensure for teaching academically gifted students or are working toward their master’s of education degree. FLEX pushes the candidates to open their minds to new ways of teaching. 

"The teachers really have the freedom to teach how they would really like to teach," said Glenda Crawford, FLEX Program coordinator and adjunct professor emerita of education. "This is a passion for me, and it's so exciting to see it work. You can tell the students and the teachers are loving it. It’s the satisfaction of seeing curriculum designed that works."

Ramsey, who teaches seventh-grade math at Kiser Middle School in Greensboro, taught her students to cook African foods like Ndizi Kaanga – or fried plantains – on Friday morning. 

Ramsey's “Amazing Race”-themed course was one of five offered to ABSS students in the summer program. Other classes learned about developing civilizations on new planets or starting their own restaurants. Rising sixth-grade students in Sarah McLaurin and Annie Campbell's class used problem-solving strategies to create an escape room.

"Especially with these kids going to middle school, they’re going to encounter harder and harder problems, so we're teaching them to solve problems creatively by creating problems," said McLaurin, who teaches fifth-grade science at Claxton Elementary in Greensboro. "Kids have really bought into that idea, thinking about their brain, using strategies to solve hard concepts and applying that to their escape room.”

​McLaurin and her fellow teachers spent a week researching and developing the program's lesson plans based on the specific interests of students in their classes. So, when rising fifth-graders expressed interest in astronomy and cooking, master's degree candidates Hannah Caldwell and Kimberle Campbell created a curriculum in which students worked to open an astronomy-themed restaurant. 

​"I was very intimidated at first because this is a lot different than what we do in the regular classroom setting," said Caldwell, who teaches fourth grade at Rankin Elementary in Greensboro. "Here, it was like we were free to do whatever we wanted to do, so it was a little bit scary to have that power, but the more we got into it and the more we saw we can really go anywhere with this, it was really exciting. To really give the kids room to explore and still learn and have fun like they did was awesome."

​ABSS students welcomed the opportunity to learn in new ways. 

"It's important because you have to keep your brain active and healthy, so it doesn't get super bored," said Amaris Young, a rising sixth-grader in McLaurin's class.

​After eight days on campus, students and teachers presented their work to parents on Wednesday. That meant parents took in a meal at the Astro Cafe or followed clues to break out of the escape rooms their children created.

Teachers also met with parents individually to discuss each student's performance and growth throughout the program. 

Luke Williams, who will start sixth grade this fall, said the FLEX Program has given him plenty of stories to tell when the new school year gets underway.

"It's great," he said. "I've learned a lot and made a lot of new friends here."

As for FLEX teachers, this opportunity is about more than just earning a special licensure. 

"We're getting actual use of what we've learned in this camp," Ramsey said. "It gives me chills when I think about going back to school, and I have more tools to use to help the kids I teach."