Penn State New Ken celebrates 25 years of offering classes to youth

| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Nicole Hohman just returned from studying for a semester in France, but when she was in grade school, an opportunity closer to home gave her a chance to feel like she was experiencing education in new and exciting ways.

That was at Penn State New Kensington's Kids in College program.

Hohman, 20, appreciated how the program — which offers summer camps and classes to students in the Alle-Kiski Valley — gave her an opportunity to go above and beyond what she learned in the classroom.

“What I loved about the Kids in College program was that it allowed me to feel like a serious student,” the Springdale resident says. A senior at Allegheny College in Meadville, Hohman is majoring in International Studies and French.

“It takes something that seems so far away, so grown-up, so giant — a college — and makes it feel attainable and fun,” she says.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the program has given the same opportunity to more than 7,000 students. Its offerings have expanded from about a dozen in its inaugural year to nearly 40, among them art, drama, math and science classes, as well as sports camps for students in first through 12th grades.

“We offer an opportunity for (students) to come to a college campus and be part of the campus atmosphere while participating in some fun summer activities,” says Debbie Novak, youth-programs coordinator at Penn State New Kensington.

Some of the classes, like Kids in College's theater camp, have started; others run through August. The bulk of the offerings take place the second and third weeks of July. Registration is open until the day a class begins.

To celebrate the anniversary, organizers have added additional programs to the regular lineup. Those include a presentation from the Carnegie Science Center called “Rockin' Robots: World Tour,” a “Wild World of Animals” wildlife show and dedication of a time capsule that will be opened in 2038 — 25 years from now.

“If anyone is interested in joining us, this is a great year,” Novak says.

Many adults join the Kids in College year after year.

Among them are the instructors, who range from area elementary and high-school teachers to Penn State faculty to individuals who operate local businesses.

Their involvement, according to program aide Sharon Levett, is a large part of its staying power.

“The dedication of the staff to make it better and better each year is what I think the driving force of the program is,” she says.

“They just bring so much knowledge with them and just make it fun for the kids — they are learning while they really don't realize they're learning.”

Initially, the program lasted one week, but as class variety expanded, so did program length.

Kids in College is keeping pace not only with student interests but also with the future, with classes focusing on technology, science and health.

JoAnn Wesolosky, who teaches art at Kiski Area Intermediate School, instructs Kids in College art classes. She says she tries to incorporate math and science concepts into her classes. This summer, she is teaching Ukrainian Easter-egg painting, bead and jewelry making, oil pastels and sculpture.

“It gives me an opportunity to teach things I wouldn't get to teach in a traditional setting,” she says. “It's a very enjoyable experience.”

“Being in a ‘big students' classroom” helps make the program work, according to Jamie Weston, a stay-at-home mom who, at one time, taught at Evangel Heights Christian Academy, Buffalo Township.

Weston, an instructor for “Hands on Science,” which offers 10 focused lab experiments, believes students can thrive in the atmosphere that Kids in College provides.

“Everybody is enthusiastic about it,” she says. “It keeps the kids focused on education through the summer in a fun, exciting way. It's not just about getting a grade back or taking homework home. It's outside the box. They're still learning. It's more of a fun activity, too.”

“They're thrilled with being so young and being in college.”

Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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