A magical twist to learning

Published 3:58 am Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Sixteen students between third and eighth grade with Buckingham County Public Schools’ gifted program were ushered into a world of spells and problem-solving during its second annual summer program, building their know-how in mathematics, science and leadership with activities inspired by the Harry Potter series and the school Potter attends, Hogwarts.

Perhaps a more apt description would not be that the experience was inspired by Harry Potter, but that students experienced a magic school of their own, an experience Adviser Linda Ruffner sought to create.

She said she and her adult daughter spent long weekends before the camp to encase walls with stone wallpaper, assemble a potions cabinet and deftly place toy owls, wands and planetary charts throughout the site.

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“Normally I don’t get that much into decorating, but with a theme like Harry Potter, it sort of needs to be immersive,” Ruffner said.

The two-week program began June 11.

“I love Harry Potter, and a lot of my kids do as well,” Ruffner said. “I think one of the kids said, ‘why don’t you do Harry Potter this year?” and I thought it was a great idea.”

Students were split into the four Hogwarts Houses: Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor. During the camp, students collaborated with their teams to get points. At the end of the camp, the house with the most points takes home the House Cup. The Ravenclaw team won the House Cup.

Camp activities included students finding the astronomical equivalents of characters named after celestial objects, such as Sirius Black; played Quidditch outdoors on foam noodles crafted as broomsticks; studied the etymology of spells used in the books; used fractions to craft potions, had independent challenges that ranged from internet research to giving a presentation, and used the values of galleons knuts and sickles, currency in the Harry Potter series, to solve complex math problems and buy items at an imaginary store.

“It lends itself very well to creative activities,” Ruffner said about the series.

She said her goal, in addition to having students build their knowledge in mathematics, science and literature, was to encourage them to face problems, fail, then learn how to solve them.

“One of the things that I really enjoy about working with our program, and with the gifted program all year is giving these kids challenges and having them do things that are not easy for them, things that are outside (what they) normally would receive as assignments,” Ruffner said. “That builds resilience, when they try to do something and they don’t get it right, and they have to figure out how they can make it happen, make it work.”

She said the program was a blast, both for her and for the students.

“We’re talking kids that come to summer school voluntarily to learn,” Ruffner said. “As a teacher it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Last year’s summer program was based from Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars,” about a family’s experience during World War II.

Marjorie Chambers, who helped with the summer gifted program, said the division’s gifted student program is a fantastic opportunity for students to find fun and friendship while offering a more academic rigorous environment.

“She would open them to an array of things, to enlighten their minds and open their viewpoints,” Chambers said.

She said her grandson, Jaylen Anderson, has been in the gifted program since fourth grade, but noted that he will leave the program once he enters high school in the fall.

She said she and mother LaToya Anderson praised Ruffner for her working with Jaylen, having weekly programs during the school year in addition to the summer camps.

“He just loved going,” Chambers said, “because there was always going to be something beneficial to him.”

Anderson said he best enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with students of different ages, and work with them to develop enough House points.

“It really helped me with my leadership skills,” Anderson said.

About the gifted program, Anderson said, “It interests me more because things in the gifted program are more challenging than, let’s say a regular class or anything else you would do in school.”

Anderson, who was in Hufflepuff, said he did not win the cup, but has read all of the Harry Potter books and liked the chance to enroll in Hogwarts, even if just for a few weeks.