By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – It’s called the “summer slide” – that drop-off in learning when students are away from school and focused on other activities.
This three-month period can impact educational achievement and cognitive development, forcing teachers and students to make up ground when classes resume.
In Kearney, there’s a way to avoid this seasonal setback, without sacrificing the fun of summer break.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney is teaming up with Kearney Public Schools to offer PAWS University, a curriculum-based summer camp for any child entering grades one through six.
The program, previously run by KPS, is now a collaborative effort that will bring approximately 1,200 area elementary students to the UNK campus to take part in hands-on, educational workshops covering a variety of topics.
“KPS is excited to partner with UNK to grow and improve the PAWS program,” said KPS communications director Tori Stofferson, a member of the program’s advisory committee. “PAWS University will continue the mission of making learning engaging and fun, and students will experience more robust workshops with the added excitement of being on the university campus.”
PAWS, an acronym for Personal Achievement Workshops, was launched about 30 years ago as a way to bridge the summer learning gap. UNK’s involvement ensures this resource will continue to impact area children.
“UNK recognized the importance of this popular program and wanted to continue offering this unique learning opportunity for elementary students,” said Amy Nebesniak, an associate professor in UNK’s Department of Math and Statistics and PAWS University advisory committee member. “PAWS University is a great way for UNK to give back, reach out and connect to our community.”
The program provides a mix-and-match adventure for participants, allowing parents to create an individualized learning path for their child by choosing from numerous one-week workshops.
“It’s an opportunity for students to learn more about a topic they’re interested in,” Nebesniak said. “We have a wide range of classes available to reach all interests.”
PAWS University runs throughout the month of June, with 16 different workshops available for each of the three age groups – grades one and two, three and four, and five and six. Topics include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), computer programming, coding and gaming, career exploration, Nebraska history, music, fitness, nature and agriculture, chemistry in the kitchen, outer space and much more.
There’s a morning library hour with reading, games, coloring and computer access at UNK’s Calvin T. Ryan Library, and Spanish immersion and art classes to end the day. The extended hours allow students to remain on campus from 7:45 a.m. until 5 p.m. each weekday, with lunch available through KPS.
A four-week PAWS University Reading Academy, for students entering grades one, two and three, runs from 9-11:30 a.m. each day.
The program is led by educators from UNK, KPS and other area schools, as well as UNK undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition to the educational component, Nebesniak said a goal is to introduce elementary students to the university and establish a connection with the faculty, staff, administrators and facilities on campus. Even Louie the Loper, UNK’s mascot, will make an appearance.
“The more kids are exposed to campus and higher education, the more likely they are to see themselves in that environment in the future,” Nebesniak said.
Plus, she noted, it’s a fun change of pace for the faculty involved.
“I get excited when I get to share what I love with a younger generation,” Nebesniak said. “This is an opportunity to share my passion and simultaneously foster children’s learning.”
PAWS University participants receive a free T-shirt and a diploma after completing the program.
UNK students get the experiential learning the university stresses while creating lesson plans and working directly with young children.
“We’re providing an opportunity for these college students to take core content from the classroom and apply it to a live scenario,” said advisory committee member Matt Bice, an associate professor of exercise science and associate dean of graduate studies at UNK. “It’s real-life training at its best.”
PAWS University is supported by grant funding from the Nebraska Arts Council, Humanities Nebraska and Nebraska Cultural Endowment.
Eventually, Nebesniak said, the committee would like to secure enough funding to offer the program at a minimal cost for students from lower-income families.
“Those are the kids who really need to see themselves on a college campus,” she said. “They need to envision themselves as future college graduates.”
PAWS University is open to any student entering grades one through six. The program, which includes a variety of one-week workshops and a monthlong reading academy, begins June 3 on the UNK campus.
For registration and cost information, visit www.unk.edu/PawsUniversity
Registration deadline is May 8, and each workshop is capped at 18 participants.