Published in Summer Planner, a special section of the Lincoln Journal-Star, May 9, 2008
Copyright Lee Enterprises, Inc. May 9, 2008. Used with permission.
Program makes summer a season of learning
At Bright Lights, kids often have so much fun they don't realize they're learning in the process. For 22 summers, Bright Lights has provided hands-on educational opportunities for Lincoln children from post-kindergarten through post-ninth grade. The 120 classes and camps include adventures such as making your own movies, using math to solve crimes, planting pumpkins on a real farm and designing a skate park.
Bright Lights motivates kids to learn by exploring subjects they're interested in, explained Barb Hoppe, education director for the program.
"You've got a classroom of kids from all over the district who are into the same topic, and the teacher and assistants are chosen because that's their interest area. It's a huge reinforcement for them, sort of sharing the passion."
Many of the 105 Bright Lights teachers are professionals in the field or have specific expertise in the subject they teach. A local physician teaches grade schoolers about the wonders of the human body. Middle school students direct and produce a TV news broadcast with two producers from Nebraska Educational Television. A graphics communication teacher from Lincoln Southeast High School integrates art and technology as she helps middle schoolers create wearable art using the high school's computers.
Kids also can discover careers they had never considered before. In "Art, Animal and Nature Drawing," students learn about botanical illustration, which combines interests in art and nature. Other half-day classes and full-day camps focus on careers such as architecture, writing, engineering and health care.
"Outdoor Adventure H2O," a new camp for post-fifth through post-seventh graders, takes students to a stream, a lake, a groundwater-fed spring, a working farm and a water park. Taught by educators from the Groundwater Foundation, the fast-paced camp teaches kids about one of the most important natural resources in our state: water.
For a unique international experience, local middle schoolers can join about 100 Japanese ninth-graders who will be visiting Lincoln on June 23-27 to attend Bright Lights. Students can choose from eight classes focusing primarily on fine arts and science.
Hoppe started Bright Lights with Jan Dutton, another Lincoln mother who saw the need for something more for kids in the summer. There were sports programs available, but nothing to stimulate children academically during the summer break.
"There are statistics that show there's a real summer slide in terms of learning," Hoppe said. "If kids don't practice math and reading in the summer, when they go back again they've lost about two and a half months. This is a way of preventing that."
Clay and Beth Smith's older daughters, Sarah and Emily, ages 8 and 6, love Bright Lights, and 5-year-old Katie can't wait until she's old enough to attend, too. Beth Smith said their girls want to take every Bright Lights class that's offered because the subjects are so much fun.
"It's something different than they would do in the classroom, so to them it's not school," she said. "It's a camp; it's a fun time. It's subjects they care about."
Bright Lights gets to the root of how children learn, said Nancy Graul. She and her husband, Tom, appreciate the visual, active educational experiences for their 8-year-old twins, Thomas and Emily.
"They can use their hands and they can draw. They're not just being told the information and being tested on it. They get into that environment and they learn, 'Oh, I do like chemistry,' or 'I do like writing,' because they've had that great summer experience."
Bright Lights classes are the highlight of the summer for Ken and Ernie VonBargen's three grandchildren, who visit each summer from Estes Park, Colo. The three boys plan their visits to Nebraska around the Bright Lights classes. So far, they've studied robotics, small engines, maps, crime scene investigation and paleontology. This summer the boys are looking forward to learning about space science and painting.
"It's a fantastic program," said Ken VanBargen. "I wish all kids would have a chance to do something like that, to explore a subject in a week's time that relates to their interest and that they don't get in school."
Half-day classes are open to students from post-kindergarten through post-ninth grade. Full-day camps are open to students in post-fourth through post-ninth grade. Need-based scholarships are available for both classes and camps.