School students get a taste of university at Acadia
Professors at Acadia University and junior high students at
Wolfville School are putting their heads together to make science come alive
outside the classroom.
For the past five years, a selection of junior high students
has visited the university’s Wolfville campus for enriched instruction in
Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science. The program was initiated by Acadia
alumnus Angie Rushton (McLaughlin, ’95), who was teaching Grade 7 math at the
“I realized there were about four students who had met the
outcomes and needed enrichment,” recalls the Wolfville School teacher. An
in-service offered details on a student enrichment program and Rushton applied
for and received a student-driven grant through the Annapolis Valley Regional
School Board (AVRSB). Then she contacted Dr. Mike Robertson in Acadia’s Physics
department and asked if he was interested in participating in the program.
Students outlined their interests and Robertson developed a
curriculum that explored biology, physics and astronomy in consecutive two-week
sessions. “His vision,” Rushton says, “was that they would get a little taste
of science and maybe do a circuit rotation. It was science coming alive that we
couldn’t do in the classroom,” with the goal of opening their eyes to what was
The toughest part, Rushton says, was selecting the
participants, some of which were not the expected high achievers. “Sometimes
they are,” she notes, “but we try and figure out who needs what support.” And
she told students in those early days, “just because certain people have left
the classroom doesn’t mean everybody here isn’t a strong student in some respect.”
She could pick only a certain number to participate in the
enrichment program and she suggests the process is no different than someone
playing on a sports team and having to leave class to practice or compete.
However, she adds, “I think every student could benefit from something like
this. It’d be nice to have everybody circle through.”
The program has expanded to include students from Grade 7, 8
and 9, and this year’s sessions were led by Dr. Jeff Hooper and Dr. Hugh
Chipman (mathematics), Robertson (science) and Dr. John Read (computer
Read, an Assistant Professor in the Jodrey School of
Computer Science with a Ph.D. in mathematics and considerable web skills, is in
a unique position. He is both a leader and a parent. He says he got involved three
years ago because he appreciated what Rushton was trying to do and also because
his daughter was in Grade 7 then and part of the program.
This year, he took Grade 9 students who had done Grade 7
math with him two years ago and did a web unit with them in concert with Dr.
Darcy Benoit, an Associate Professor in the Jodrey School. They explored how to
build a website and create a relatively simple iAcadia app that runs on iPhone,
iPod or iPad.
He says the kids enjoy coming to Acadia for the extra
sessions and Rushton “is clearly driven to extend the kids’ classroom learning
to try and make their experience as rich as possible.”
Rushton says the students gain a combination of practical
and theoretical knowledge; they apply what they learn in real world settings.
“If you can get them to see why they
have to learn it,” she adds, “it’s easier to learn. They also get to see what’s
at Acadia and it’s a goal perhaps for them after they graduate from high
She values the partnership between Wolfville School and
Acadia, describing it as “fantastic. We live in a town where we have the university
and can tap into it. Parents have said we have enrichment possibilities that we
wouldn’t have if we weren’t in this town. It’s great for our students to see
the university, to see what’s attainable, and I think there are many things we
The program is focused currently on science, but Rushton
says there are students at Wolfville School who love to write or kids that live
and breathe history. “There are so many resources at Acadia,” she says. “The
possibilities are there and we just have to figure out how to make use of them
as a team or in some form of partnership.”
Read concurs. “It’s very important for Acadia to become a
little less of an ivory tower and to imbed itself in the surrounding community.
It’s good for the kids; it’s a reward for being good. They get to leave their
classrooms and are brought to Acadia for extracurricular activity during school.
We’re reaching a whole group of kids who wouldn’t necessarily have any tie to
Acadia and I hope that next year we will be able to continue to do this.”
So does Rushton. Funding and resources are perennial concerns,
but she says the professors “agreed to do this even before money was an issue.
They have been great at using any supplies they have and willing to do this
without honorarium. They saw it as something really neat, and the program has
expanded (to other schools in the AVRSB, notably Kings County Academy). There
is still some money in the pot, but I don’t know how much more will be
available in the future.”
Regardless, the relationship between Wolfville School and
Acadia is opening doors as surely as it is encouraging young, creative minds.
“Students are eager to participate,” Rushton says, “and it’s so great for kids
to have this chance. It makes their learning more meaningful and attainable,
and it might drive them to try harder and value their education. I think it has
been good for the kids, their parents and for me as well.”
Text and Photos: Fred Sgambati (’83)