For most children, summer means a welcome break from homework, teachers, and books. Megan Easter is not most children. She has spent the past nine summers attending class at UALR’s Summer Laureate University for Youth, beginning when she was 4.
She has gone every summer since, following in the footsteps of her mother, aunt, and older brother. Her younger brother as well as twin cousins from Massachusetts will also attend the program this summer, continuing a family tradition that got its start in the early 1980s with Megan’s mom, Michele.
Michele Easter is a big believer in the program, which offers experiential learning to high-achieving students in a challenging yet fun environment. Michele recalls learning about trigonometry as a 10-year-old by measuring the buildings on the UALR campus. Years later, her daughter, Megan, learned about chemistry through a Harry Potter-esque potions class, among other STEM projects.
The Summer Laureate University is open to students in kindergarten through eighth grade who demonstrate the ability to do higher-level coursework and have a desire for learning.
“Every spring I ask Megan if she wants to go back to the program, and she says, ‘absolutely!’” Michele said. “She gets to share her thoughts and be creative in a way that she doesn’t get to be during the regular school year.”
Scholarships are still available for students to attend this summer’s session, which takes place July 8-19 at Booker Arts Magnet School in Little Rock. A total of 30 classes will be offered, in subjects ranging from Pixar animation to the superheroes and villains of Greek mythology.
Students applying for the program must include a teacher recommendation letter and test score from a national or state achievement or aptitude test.
The scholarships are awarded on basis of academic achievement and financial need. The generous endowment, created in honor of education leader Martha Gaunt Bass, provides partial tuition for the program. Last summer, 19 students were beneficiaries of the scholarship.
“We’ve been fortunate to keep it going,” said Ann Robinson, director of the Jodie Mahoney Center for Gifted Education at UALR. “Each year the scholarship receives donations from parents and families of those who have participated.
“Martha Bass envisioned the program when she was at UALR working on her master’s degree,” Robinson said. “The idea was such a good one that the university made it come to life.”
That was 33 years ago. Bass went on to serve as the administrator of Gifted Programs for the Arkansas Department of Education. Thanks to her, thousands of talented students have found a place to expand their knowledge base, develop lifelong friendships, and, as is the case with the Easters, continue the tradition with each generation.
The application fee is $25, while tuition for the summer session is $275. The scholarship deadline is Monday, May 13. Application forms can be found online.