Panther University bid farewell to its first class of students April 3.
Northpoint Elementary School in Blaine opened the university this winter as a way to breathe new life into its after-school targeted services programming.
Targeted services provides additional math, reading and social skills practice for students who meet criteria to participate, particularly students not meeting grade-level standards. Students stay for an hour after school three days a week for six weeks.
“Kids of all academic abilities have asked how can they get invited to Panther University,” according to teacher Stacey Benz. “They want to be there.”
In the fall, 36 students participated in targeted services at Northpoint. This spring, more than four times that number decided to enroll in Panther University – 160.
In addition to a “cool” new name, new programming based on students’ interests made Panther University a success, according to Dean of Students Tyler Nelson, who led the design team responsible for creating the university.
“It was fun,” he said of the six-week program. “It was interactive, hands-on learning.”
Students could opt to work on independent technology; movie creation; passion projects; science, technology, engineering and math experiments; or service projects.
Service projects didn’t take off this year.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming was the most popular. About half of all students enrolled in Panther University picked this course of study.
STEM students executed a variety of experiments, working with balloon cars, rockets, water bottle lava lamps, and more.
Independent technology students worked online with MobyMax and Raz-Kids, programs that differentiate lessons for each learner.
Aspiring actors and writers kicked their creativity into high gear, filming and editing movies.
About a dozen students pursued passion projects, focusing their energies on researching and creating a presentation about something that intrigued them. Students chose to study everything from DNA to strawberry ice cream.
After watching Discovery’s Shark Week with her dad, Teagan Thomsen’s passion is the megalodon, an extinct shark that once ravaged the oceans. She decided to put together a documentary-like presentation on the shark.
Teagan’s in second grade and intends to attend Panther University next year, too.
“I wish this started when I was in first grade,” she said on the last day when students showcased their projects.
Though staff continues to evaluate Panther University, the hope is that it will run for six weeks twice each year.
Before parents took their kids home or buses picked them up on the last day of class, students signed a poster that denoted them as a member of Panther University’s very first class.
“A lot of them are very proud to be the first class of Panther University,” Nelson said.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org