COLLEGE PARK-WEST BOULEVARD
By ANN ELISE TAYLOR
Although the bell marking the end of the school day Monday, Feb. 28, had rung 45 minutes earlier, Russell Boulevard Elementary School was still bustling at 4:30 p.m.
Children danced in untidy rows to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” in the gym.
Homemade robots rattled against the linoleum floor in a classroom down the hall.
Children wearing oversized headphones typed carefully and stared intently at dimly lit screens in the computer lab.
At Russell University, classes were in session.
From Monday, Feb. 28, through Thursday, March 3, students at Russell Boulevard are being given the chance to learn at Russell University, an after-school program designed to expose children to subjects and activities that aren’t typically taught in classroom settings.
“We had about nine different offerings today,” said Rebecca Jones, who coordinates Russell University. “We had hip-hop dance class, Spanish, ‘How Stuff Works,’ which is a circuit and robot making class, card making, cartooning, ‘Next Top Chef,’ computer programming and creative writing.”
Jones said that about 190 of Russell Boulevard’s 575 students are taking part in the program, along with Columbia businesses and residents helping teach the classes being offered. Russell University cost $7 per student; last year, $2,000 was raised for the school’s PTA.
This year’s program has been a success, Jones said.
“I went into ‘Next Top Chef,’ and it smelled wonderful. The hip hop dancers were having a great time, and I saw working robots,” Jones said. Students seemed to be enjoying the classes, she said.
Fourth-grader Savannah Cossey wrote a story in the creative writing class.
“It’s about a girl turning 16 and about her party. It’s in a castle, and she finds out that her cousin is a princess, because she really wants to be a real princess,” Savannah said. “Then it’s done, and she gets every single thing that she wanted for her birthday.”
Fifth-grader Anna Spell took the program’s card making class. She smiled and pointed at one reading “Happy Birthday” that was decorated with pink and purple paper.
“I’m giving it to my little sister,” she said.
Savannah’s mother, Georgeanne Cossey, said Savannah and her brother, Colin, have been looking forward to Russell University since they signed up for classes.
“The countdown has been on,” Georgeanne Cossey said, laughing. “They’ve been really excited about it.”
Tami Ensor, assistant principal at Russell Boulevard, said this kind of eagerness for learning is what makes Russell University a beneficial program for her students.
“It gives children another opportunity for learning,” she said. Because certain material must be covered in classrooms by state mandate, time isn’t always left for extraneous information to be taught, according to Ensor. “So, this provides all kinds of extra activities above and beyond the regular school day that they are really engaged in.”
Alicia Lorio, an MU sophomore who volunteered as an assistant teacher in the creative writing class, said her students showed a great deal of interest in the subject.
“All of them are taking their stuff home instead of leaving it here,” Lorio said. “They wanted to work on it. It’s really fulfilling to see how excited they get and to know that you can kind of facilitate that.”
Ensor said the program also encourages children to start thinking about their futures.
“Another plus is that the whole concept of going to ‘college’ is a fabulous precursor for them,” Ensor said. “They start to think, ‘Hey, I can go to college because I’m already doing it now,’ in a sense. Getting that mindset right now in elementary school and being able to start that is huge.”
Georgeanne Cossey, whose kids have participated in the program before, can attest to its success in doing this.
“It exposes them to a lot of different ideas so that they can start thinking about their futures and what they want to do for a job,” she said.
Savannah Cossey has already started to think about her career path.
“I want to be a pastry chef,” she said. “Or a writer. Or a meteorologist. I can’t say that one, but it’s, like, to predict weather and stuff.”
Though some big decisions remain to be made, Savannah enjoyed getting to be creative and learn new things at Russell University.
“It was really fun for me because I could write freely about whatever I want,” she said. “It could be anything. It could be, like, out of this world.”