Every summer, Azusa Unified School District (AUSD) students gather on Azusa Pacific University’s campus to enrich their education through the Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) Program. This year marked the ninth annual G.A.T.E. Summer School with 215 third grade through high school students. The summer school allows students to engage with teachers in creative activities that enhance the curriculum, focusing on content and skills that go beyond the yearly, required, academic work.
At a time when many extracurricular programs are being suspended due to budget cuts, this program provides a unique opportunity for students to participate in an enriched curriculum taught by AUSD teachers and APU faculty. APU also provides scholarships for books, tuition, facilities, and other supplies, allowing the district to receive the greatest benefit without adding costs.
“It’s a reciprocal relationship between APU and AUSD. We aren’t just doing this for AUSD. They do a lot for us too. They allow us to be partners in this educational experience,” said Maria Pacino, Ed.D., APU director of the G.A.T.E. Summer School Program and chair of the Department of Advanced Studies in Education in APU’s School of Education.
In 2000, the AUSD assistant superintendent approached APU, wanting to create and collaborate on a program with the intention of encouraging AUSD students to attend college.
“Being on a college campus is an incredibly rewarding experience for the students. For many of them, especially the high school students who take college courses, they decide they want to come to APU or go to another college, which makes the transition to college easier for them,” said Peggy Harris, teacher in the AUSD and the G.A.T.E.Summer School Program representative this year.
Each summer, teachers from AUSD teach third grade through middle school, with approximately 30 students per class. This summer, the classes focused on the theme of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The program also enables 40 high school students to take college-credit courses taught by APU faculty. The high school students chose between three courses: Freshman Writing Seminar taught by Adrien Lowery, Ph.D., professor in the Department of English; Biology taught by Scott Kinnes, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry; or a new course this year, Current Political Issues taught by Jennifer Walsh, Ph.D., professor in the Department of History and Political Science.
“The G.A.T.E. Summer School Program is great. I think even though the work is hard, it is a great place for us to learn more in a college environment. It gets me excited about what the future holds,” said Nabria Reaves, a junior at Gladstone High School and summer school participant.
Along with their courses, the students also benefited from field trips, furthering their education through hands-on experience. The high school students went to the Long Beach Marina for a science boat experience, sponsored by the Azusa/Glendora Rotary Club. Elementary and middle school students visited the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. Also new this year, students toured the Treasures of the Bible: Dead Sea Scrolls & Beyond exhibition, hosted by APU.
The program is rewarding and beneficial to the students, and also provides resources for parents with AUSD and APU offering guidance, seminars, and lectures for parents so they can learn about gifted children, how to raise them, support them, and help them succeed.
“Gifted students are a little different than other students,” said Harris. “The G.A.T.E. summer experience allows the students to be around other students who are like them; students who think like them and studying like them.”