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Families encouraged to THINK

The Claremont-based summer enrichment program Project THINK is celebrating its 35th year, with a rainforest theme and—after being ensconced for a few years in the Old School House—a return to the Claremont Colleges.

Some 200 students, ranging from kindergartners to eighth graders, are enrolled in the first session, combining learning and fun on the Scripps College campus. Another hundred are already signed up for Project THINK’s second session, which runs from July 6 to July 24 and is still welcoming students.

Susan Warren and Kay Conley founded the nonprofit in 1982. The education budget had been decimated a few years earlier by the passage of Proposition 13, an amendment to the California constitution limiting the property taxes once used to fund education. With summer school programs in CUSD and the surrounding districts non-existent, the master teachers hoped their program would turn summer “learning loss” into intellectual gain.

Project THINK, which has also been headquartered variously on the campuses of Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Harvey Mudd Colleges, was located at Scripps for more than 20 years, so it feels like a homecoming for Ms. Warren.

Ms. Conley retired last year, but Ms. Warren—a graduate professor of public education at Azusa Pacific University—remains hard at work supervising a program in which she firmly believes. There are a number of scholarships, she notes, and all proceeds go right back into serving the students.

Ms. Warren, who was a public school teacher and administrator for 22 years, relates that Project THINK boasts an unusually high teacher-to-student ratio. She is proud of the program’s staff of carefully selected teachers. “It’s one thing to have a credential or a master’s degree. But it’s the disposition I look for—that caring and understanding,” she said.

Mamie Dinani, a retired teacher who travels to Claremont from Chico each summer to participate in Project Think, fits the bill.

“I like that within the theme, the teacher gets the chance to enjoy what they can bring out,” Ms. Dinani said in a 2012 COURIER article. “I don’t have the inhibition of ‘You’ve got to get to material for the test.’ It’s delightful. It’s energizing.”

The teachers are assisted by students, some in high school and others in college. Many of them are Project THINK alumni. “They love our program and believe in it. They want to share the positive influence they got as a child,” Ms. Warren said. “And the younger kids look up to them.”

Another strength of the program is how well it dovetails with the Common Core curriculum, according to Ms. Warren. Subject matter hasn’t changed, she points out. What’s changed is how it is taught, with a new emphasis on the four Cs—critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.

“Project THINK was founded on those four C’s 35 years ago,” she said. “For years, public education has been about imparting information and having the kids spew it back. It’s been a very rote formula, with no concern for having students think about what they are learning or questioning the material. And now, the pendulum has swung back.”

Questioning is the modus operandi for Project THINK students. “We want them to know that there is more than one way to find an answer, and sometimes there is more than one answer,” Ms. Warren said.

Days at Project THINK begin with a morning enrichment program, with “Young Thinkers” in kindergarten through second grade moving through learning centers in self-contained classrooms and third through eight graders rotating through six classrooms.

The afternoon is dedicated to extracurricular classes like computers, drama, Spanish and visual and performing arts, as well as swimming classes utilizing the Claremont High School pool.

The classes have a component of “stealth education,” specially designed to make learning fun. 

A computer class, aimed at kids fourth grade and up, is called Video Game Design and MinecraftEDU. As part of the course’s curriculum, participants design their own interactive tropical rainforest using the educational version of the wildly popular game Minecraft.

The drama class is also game theory in action.

“In the drama class, the students think they are having a good time playing acting games, but we are actually teaching them about public speaking and communication,” Ms. Warren said. “They are learning to stand, project their voices and keep eye contact.” 

She considers the art class to be particularly invaluable, because the kids don’t just undertake projects. They gain a lifetime of art appreciation. The youngsters are exposed to concepts like form, texture, color and the values of light and dark. And while they paint, color, cut and fold, they are asked to look through the lens of some of history’s most famous artists.

The students are especially wild about one wriggly treat. Each week, they are introduced to a mystery animal that fits into this year’s “Jungle Journey Around the World” theme. The children can ask any staff member questions like “Does it have slimy skin?” before getting an up-close look at the surprise critter. Last week, it was a snake, more specifically a red-tail boa.

For kids like 7-year-old Olivia Irving, Project THINK is a nice change of pace and a stimulating way to spend some long summer days.

“My favorite thing is going to all the classes, and after I do swimming. Those are my favorite things,” Olivia said.

For more information on Project THINK, visit www.projectthink or call (909) 626-5481.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com