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Bradley Hilltopics

Fall 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 4  

Campus View

Gifted youth program WOWs for 25 years

By Nancy Ridgeway

Levi Obery

Eighth-grader Ian McConnaughay participates in the World of Wonder “Pop Art” class. He recalls classes such as Peoria history, Brain Games, philosophy, and many math and science classes. The son of Dr. Kelly McConnaughay, professor of biology, and her husband Thomas, Ian has attended WOW since he was about 5 years old and says, “It’s engaging. There are no grades, we have smaller classes, and it’s fun!”


The second-floor classrooms of Baker Hall were filled with the promise of bright, talented students for a week in June and again in August. Rather than 18- to 22-year-olds studying business management, accounting, and finance, these students were about 10 years younger. They were learning about art, math, poetry, science, and other disciplines in thematic sessions such as “Think…Pop Art,” “Grossology,” “In the Jungle,” and “Junior Crime Scene Investigators.”

In June, 138 students enrolled in the World of Wonder (WOW) program, and many enrolled in more than one class. August enrollment was 122 students. Children entering first through third grades may participate. Eligibility for older youth is determined by an inclusive, objective, professional process that considers each student’s abilities in academic subjects, high-level thought processes, divergent thinking, and creativity.

LYNETTE WOELFLE STEGER ’93 was among the first to enroll in the Bradley University Institute for Gifted and Talented Youth (BUIGTY), and her son Benjamin now participates. Steger, who still has a play she wrote in a BUIGTY class, remembers sitting along Main Street with her teacher and classmates to count cars based on certain parameters for a statistics class. She says, “There’s really not much like it. It’s a mini-university program for elementary and junior high students. This is a crème de la crème program.”

For the past 25 years, Bradley University has offered summer educational opportunities for youth. Dr. Joan Sattler, dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences, was involved at the program’s inception, when Bradley collaborated on a grant with Peoria County schools to create the Peoria County Foreign Language Immersion Program. From there, Sattler worked with Dr. Steve Permuth, dean of the College of Education at the time, to establish a network with school districts to launch the BUIGTY. In addition to offering summer programming, the Institute was established to offer year-round consulting regarding gifted students. “Programming for gifted students is not required, but many schools have pull-out programs, and some districts have schools for gifted children. We felt this would be a way for Bradley to connect with gifted and talented youth in public and parochial schools,” Sattler explains.

JON C. NEIDY, MA ’01, assistant director of Continuing Education, has directed BUIGTY’s summer WOW program for the past four years, in collaboration with the College of Education and Health Sciences. “We stress the classes must be academically challenging (at least a year above grade level), fun, and interactive. Students are with their intellectual peers, so we’re teaching to the top all the time.”

Six Bradley undergraduate teacher education students work with the students each summer. Student aide LEILA SHAMSUDDIN ’10 says, “I have worked at camps before, but never in a gifted program. These children have a lot of different behaviors from other children. They have strong interests in certain areas, and they need to be listened to more than other children because they often feel people don’t understand them. Sometimes adults treat them as adults because they are gifted intellectually, but they still have to be treated as kids. They are sensitive and have needs like all children.”

JEN OLSON BERNITT ’95, a substitute teacher at Metamora Grade School, has taught in the summer gifted program for 13 years. She also served as a student aide for two years. “I like the freedom to be able to teach children in a very hands-on, interactive manner. In the summer, I feel children should be very active. This allows a lot more leeway and creativity for them to explore. We don’t have to sit down and test like we do in school.”

She reflects on her time as a student aide as “a great experience to watch people teach in different manners. It gave me a head start, and I always put it on my resume. I’m very proud to be a part of WOW.”

“The socialization aspect is as important as the learning,” comments Neidy, adding the WOW program helps gifted children feel good about themselves. “Students in this program have an absolute joy of learning. It’s totally OK to be smart, and they’re with other students who are smart. This allows bright, motivated students to have a positive experience on Bradley’s campus at an early age.”

View more photos from WOW classes here.