SLUFY celebrates 40th anniversary 

The gifted and talented kids attending UA Little Rock’s Summer Laureate University for Youth (SLUFY) are doing the cool things they don’t get to do in a typical school classroom. They’ve designed roller coasters and mixed potions. They’ve built caves, launched rockets, solved mysteries, broken codes, created art, and even cracked a few eggs in their quest to design a safe car. And while they’re having lots of fun, they’ve also learned a thing or two.  

Analyzing the aerodynamics of flying brooms? That requires physics.

Mixing potions? That’s chemistry.

This is the 40th anniversary for SLUFY, the state’s longest continuously running summer program for gifted and talented youth in the state. It started in 1979 as a master’s project and has continued to grow.

“The individuals who envisioned Summer Laureate 40 years ago continue to inspire us,” said  Dr. Ann Robinson, director of the Jodie Mahony Center for Gifted Education, which hosts SLUFY. “The dedicated teachers and staff who have maintained the program’s innovation and excellence deserve a victory lap this year. It is a story of creative collaboration between UA Little Rock and the community.” 

Most of the courses are built around science, technology, engineering, and math – the STEM disciplines – or STEAM, which is STEM with art added into the mix. The two-week program ends July 19, when parents come to campus to see what their kids have been learning.

SLUFY classes are taught by professionals who are masters-level graduates, master teachers, and National Board certified teachers. Teachers receive training and ongoing support from the staff and UA Little Rock Gifted Education professors to meet the needs of high-ability students.

More than 300 K-8 students are taking part in this year’s 20-plus course offerings.

Young Harry Potter fans were especially happy about two new offerings: “Advanced Charms, Potions, and Other Amazements” for third- and fourth-graders and “Mystical Magical World” for fifth- and sixth-graders. 

Brigette Pullet, who teaches K-4 students in Malvern’s Gifted and Talented program, is leading this year’s geology-based “Cave” class. Her students have learned how caves are formed, how to identify types or rocks, and how acids and bases react.

Across the hall, an all-boys class experimented with stomp rockets in Lift-Off, taught by Reyes Lovins, who teaches gifted and talented students in the North Little Rock School District.  

The week started with team-building exercise in which groups competed to build the tallest marshmallow tower using dry spaghetti noodles, tape, string, and one marshmallow.

The tallest tower measured 19.5 inches tall. 

“They learn to work in teams to brainstorm better ways to construct and stabilize their tower,” Lovins said.

Later in the week, the children built rockets out of various materials and launched them down the hallway. Lovins taught the students how to change a single variable – such as the width or length of the rocket or type of material used – to propel their rockets farther down the hall.

Little Rock student Lois Hockstra said she doesn’t much like real roller coasters, but she loves designing them in Roller Coaster Mania, taught by Nicole Rose, a teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Little Rock.

The third- and fourth-graders in Rose’s class learned about stored energy and momentum before they designed roller coaster tracks using foam pool noodles cut in half lengthwise. Lois, along with Emery Considine from Baker Elementary and Ashlee Scruggins, an eStem student, tested their design using a marble as the coaster.

In Karen Newburn’s “Be a Scientist” class, students had to apply scientific principles they learned to design and build egg cars. The egg represents a human passenger, and at the end of the week they will test their vehicles. The condition of their egg will determine the success of their design.

Legos are always a favorite among students. Roberts Elementary School teacher Holly Jenkins incorporates construction and math principles into her Legos class to teach students how to solve practical problems. For example, students use area and perimeter to figure out how much fencing is needed to enclose a yard. An architect with Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock also visited the class this week. The kids also have time each day to free build. In a matter of minutes, Daniel Whitsell, 10, of Little Rock had assembled a four-wheeled dune buggy, complete with lasers.

 “I can create almost anything with them,” he said.

 Photos: (top right) Third- and fourth-grade boys attending Summer Laureate University for Youth (SLUFY) launch stomp rockets in Ross Hall.

(Above center) Students in Roller Coaster Mania at Summer Laureate University for Youth (SLUFY) use pool noodles to design a roller coaster track. 

(Above right) Elementary school students mix acids and bases while learning about caves at UA Little Rock’s Summer Laureate University for Youth. Photos by Benjamin Krain

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