A Special Message to the Parents of Rising 8th Graders
By David J. Dunn, Academic Coordinator
If you go up the main steps to the Wyatt Center on the Peabody Campus of Vanderbilt University, take the elevator to the third floor, and walk to the far end of the hall, you will come upon a very special room. Inside, you will meet a suit of armor who goes by the name of “Roger” (Guardian of the Realm) wearing a t-shirt that reads, “I love geeks!” The bookcases are filled with stacks of papers and supplies, software manuals, and materials from previous sessions of Vanderbilt Summer Academy. But on one shelf sits a monkey, holding a ray gun, flanked by Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Welcome to the VSA office! But don’t let the levity fool you. In this room, anywhere from 3-5 members of PTY staff will be processing paperwork, planning activities, ordering books and coursepaks, and fielding lots and lots of calls from the parents of rising 8th graders who are anticipating their first VSA experience. They are asking some great questions:
“What’s VSA like?” – Do you know why I just described our office? Why did I mention the flurry of activity under the watchful eyes of Roger (well, if he had eyes)? Because our office reflects our program. VSA is challenging, exciting, and fun. It is filled with students whose idea of a good time is to come to Vanderbilt for 1-3 weeks, sit in a room full of other smart kids, and take accelerated courses with professors and advanced graduate students. It is also an opportunity to make new friends with other smart kids who share similar passions and interests. Or as I like to put it to some parents, “VSA students get to hang out with people who get their jokes.”
“Is VSA safe?” – Safety is our #1 priority. We do everything we can to ensure the safety of our students. If students become sick, we have a clinic we can take them to. If they get injured, one of the best children’s hospitals in the country is right across the street! They stay in a residence hall that you need a special key card to get into. Floors are segregated by gender, and they are locked, too! Open floor hours are hosted by Proctors – residential counselors – who go through a week-long training in everything from CPR to dealing with homesickness. Proctors are here to supervise your kids and to make sure VSA is a positive experience.
“How hard are the classes?” – The answer is, “hard enough.” Academically talented students sometimes don’t know what they are capable of. We are here to show them! We want students to struggle, but we also want them to succeed! They will be challenged (some of them for the first time in their lives), but they will be in a room full of students who are challenged with them. They will be taught by scholars who know their fields backwards and forwards. Every course also has a teaching assistant to give students the one-on-one time they need to make VSA a positive experience. Yes, your students will be challenged. They will be pushed, and at the end of the session, they will look back and say, “I never knew I could do that before.” (I taught VSA courses for five years, and I heard students say this all the time.) Maybe that’s why the research shows that gifted students who attend talent development programs like ours tend to leave with more confidence in what they can accomplish and want to set their sights higher than they previously had for college options and even careers.
Those seem to be the top three questions, but I’m sure you have more. We love talking to parents, finding out about their kids, and addressing their concerns. We want your kids at VSA, but we want this hard fun to be a good fit. So give us a call, probably sooner rather than later. If history is any indicator, Session I will be full in a couple of weeks. Talk to you soon, and hopefully, we will see you this summer at VSA!