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Elementary students earn university degrees with higher learning program

Thursday, January 24, 20131093 views

Fourth graders at Quail Hollow Elementary (2625 East Newcastle Drive) are already students of a higher learning program.

Students in the three fourth-grade classes are participating throughout the school year in a program called the University of Learning to earn degrees in self-selected subjects.

Fourth grade teacher Trish Boswell, who designed the program, said the University of Learning curriculum helps students be self-motivated and learn to love learning.

“I’m really encouraging [the students] to learn something new,” she said.

Boswell has been a teacher for almost three decades. The University of Learning program has been a part of the Quail Hollow fourth grade curriculum for more than 10 years, ever since she got the idea from a seminar she took on how to teach gifted and talented students.

“I loved how excited [the gifted and talented students] were about learning, and I wanted that for my classroom,” she said.

Now, at the beginning of each school year, Boswell presents the project to parents and students during the Back to School night.

Students are encouraged to work all year long on a project of their choice. They can earn five different higher learning degrees in succession: a technical degree, associate’s degree, undergraduate or bachelor’s degree, a master’s and a doctorate.

All of the fourth graders, or about 90 students this year, are encouraged to earn at least a bachelor’s degree.

For each degree, students have a list of requirements that can include reading books, doing research, creating a report, giving a presentation to classmates and doing a service project.

Each degree confers privileges earned by the students. The awards include recognition, cash, a choice to sit wherever the student chooses in class and chewing gum.

Earning a degree takes about 15 hours of work. Students are also allowed to get their families to help and support their projects.

Boswell said she’s seen families plan trips, take photos and help support the students as they work on their projects.

“So many times, it becomes a family-oriented thing,” Boswell said.

About five students in each class generally earn the doctorate degree, and complete service projects in the community. Past projects completed by Quail Hollow fourth graders include making lunches for Ronald McDonald House, donating blankets to a dog shelter, working at L.D.S. Humanitarian Services and donating over 100 handmade knit hats to Primary Children’s Medical Center.

Boswell said the kids really take the idea and run with it.

“Some of the service projects the kids do, I’ve just been amazed. There’s no way I could come up with all of the wonderful things the kids are doing. I’m in awe,” she said.

At the end of the school year, all of the students are recognized for their hard work with a special graduation ceremony that parents are invited to attend. Teachers talk up the students’ individual accomplishments, “Pomp and Circumstance” is played by the school orchestra and cake is served.

The students all also receive gift certificates for free Subway sandwiches donated by the local business.

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