Thinking outside the classroom
Saturday Academy is all about learning, but it takes an unconventional approach to the everyday classroom.
There are no tests. Students don't receive a letter grade. Instead, what is most important is that students are there in the first place, trying their best, said the organization's executive director, Jeri Janowsky.
The nonprofit offers classes around Multnomah County and is heading farther west in Washington County. Its newest locale is in Forest Grove at Pacific University, where children can learn from experts in their field, university faculty and staff.
This summer, Pacific is hosting three Saturday Academy courses for a range of ages: Tinkerlab, a workshop using items like a 3D printer, for grades 3 to 8 June 24-28, with another session from July 8-12; Intro to Astronomy for grades 8 to 12 June 24-28; and Digital Videomaking for grades 9 to 12 July 8-12.
Slots for classes are still open, and students needing financial aid are encouraged to apply.
Janowsky's background is in neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University and University of Oregon. Her expertise in memory helped her career evolve, as she wanted to find out how kids learn in the long run.
Saturday Academy opened in 1983 and has served more than 180,000 students since it began. It now sees almost 6,000 kids a year. This summer alone, it is offering more than 50 full-day camps and 200 half-day classes at 21 locations across the Portland metro area, all taught by volunteers and expert instructors in their fields.
"It distinguishes itself by trying to appeal to kids' curiosity and go deeply," Janowsky said. "The idea here is that they are learning from experts and they can really ask deep questions, and they see careers that follow education. All of the classrooms, internships and workshops are hands-on and you learn by doing.
"We are looking for kids to create their own learning instead of everyone starting and ending at the same place."
Saturday Academy also focuses on career exploration and preparedness for children beginning in second grade — extending through their senior year of high school — and strives to encourage the exploration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Its program Girls Engage Technology encourages younger girls to gain confidence in their study of technology, a field that employs a relatively small amount of women.
"We are really hoping to create the next creators of the next steps to keep our society running," Janowsky said. "Science and technology will be a requirement for all careers in the future and moving forward. It really does require knowing about scientific principles, being able to think through them, [having] a fascination about how things work and being comfortable experimenting."
Saturday Academy instructor Iris Young graduated from Pacific University after studying film and went on to teach at the Northwest Film Center in downtown Portland, working with fourth- to seventh-graders. Returning to her alma mater to pioneer the Digital Videomaking class for high schoolers is exciting, and she hopes it is as rewarding as her past classes, she said.
"Sadly, public schools give little time to that creative exploration," Young said. "Programs like Saturday Academy are so important to help kids develop their creativity and problem-solving skills."
Beyond summer, Saturday Academy offers internships, as well as more camps and classes beyond Forest Grove. Its classes are taught at many locations around the calendar year, including local schools for afterschool programming. To keep an eye out for future opportunities and sign up for classes, visit saturdayacademy.org.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
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