Kids Learn ‘On the Sly’ at Horizons Youth Summer Enrichment 2008


Photo of a student in the Horizons summer enrichment program on horseback with an instructor at her side in a horseback riding course.

An instructor in the Horizons summer enrichment program at Southeast Missouri State University assists Emily Smith in learning how to ride as part of a horseback riding course.


June 24, 2008 – Children seen around the campus of Southeast Missouri State University this month are soaking up knowledge during the lazy days of summer. The Horizons Youth Summer Enrichment program has offered them lots of fun while growing familiar with academic areas such as biology, chemistry and musical theatre production. In fact, they may have forgotten they were “learning.”

The Horizons program offers week-long classes during June for youth ages 5 to 14 to learn new ideas and skills not covered in the traditional classroom.

Christy Mershon, assistant director of Extended and Continuing Education, says the Horizons program has a strong academic base at the core of its fun activities.

“The ‘CSI’ class is really more of a chemistry class, involving scientific method and DNA. It focuses on how forensic scientists process a crime scene,” Mershon said. “‘CSI’ was just the hook that gets the kids in. In ‘Musical Theatre Dance,’ Ms. (Hillary) Peterson taught the kids dance theory, and they didn’t even know it.”

Many parents these days want their children to be career-minded from an early age. According to Mershon, the “Junior Exploration” classes are popular for this reason. She said the program tries to hire instructors with doctoral-level education, but sometimes hires instructors who are in close proximity with the career being explored. For example, Karen Bangert, the instructor for “Junior Veterinarian,” is a practicing veterinarian at Skyview Animal Clinic as well as a professor in Southeast’s Department of Agriculture.

During the first week of June, Bangert taught “Junior Veterinarian” to 25 eager students. One day, the class dissected a fetal pig, an activity normally reserved for high school biology students. Other days, the students learned about the importance of spaying or neutering.

In addition to discussing dogs and cats, Bangert also taught the children about other popular pets, such as game birds, frogs, iguanas, snakes, turtles, ferrets and even goats. The children sat attentive to the instructor much of the time, but attentions wane where animals are involved. At one point, the animals got restless, and one student raised her hand and asked, “Do ferrets eat snakes?” Bangert quickly re-assessed the situation and moved the ferret cage across the room from the snake cage.

Once the snake was brought out, questions abounded, including “How can you tell if it’s a male or a female?” Along with basic anatomy, the students learned about the environmental elements and diet required for parrots, frogs and lizards.

In another field of science, kids enrolled in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” not only had the opportunity to investigate a mock homicide, but they also applied critical thinking skills in determining “whodunit.” Danielle LaVictoire, a graduate student majoring in forensic chemistry, taught the class during afternoons the first week of June. She answered questions such as “How do you spell homicide?” and “Which piece of evidence is the most important?”

One day, the class visited the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and watched professional scientists. Afterward, Officer Julian Harston “debriefed” the students, telling them how samples are collected and how innocent people can damage evidence with hair fibers and skin cells.

On the final day, LaVictoire led students through a mock crime scene complete with fingerprints, blood, the murder weapon and other pieces of evidence. The children were instructed to sketch the layout of the scene, and from then on, it was strict protocol. Once they received their analysis kits, they donned rubber gloves and armed themselves with pincers, ready to collect the evidence. The students then returned to the classroom to analyze their findings with professional equipment such as chemical developers and test tubes. Analyses were made, decisions were reached and the students were both nervous and eager for their turn on the stand in the mock trial that would tell them who the murderer was. After each student presented the evidence and analysis to the court, he or she was met with a round of applause from instructors and peers.

While it’s true that creativity plays an important role in any field of academia, students enrolled in “Musical Theatre Dance” received an opportunity to create their own choreographed dance moves. Taught by Hillary Peterson, instructor of dance and choreography in the Department of Theatre and Dance, the class took place at the River Campus during the second week in June. The students learned, rehearsed and performed a total of three dances: an introduction dance, a number from “Grease” and a number from “Hairspray.” For the introduction dance, the students were encouraged to make up their own moves and synchronize with their partners. In coordinating their movements with the others, the students unwittingly practiced teamwork.

In between rehearsals for their dances, Peterson led them in dancing games, such as “freeze dance” (a tailored version of “freeze frame,” a game dependent upon sharp reflexes) and she also showed the students clips from famous musicals. Peterson explained this on the final day to parents who showed up for their kids’ end-of-the-week performance, saying, “they got to see what the ‘big kids’ do.”   

On the final day of class, the students were filled with adrenalin and their energy was contagious. As the auditorium filled with parents and siblings, the students enjoyed getting excited, peeking every so often from the side door as “zero hour” approached. But once the music began, the kids were spot-on, their hard work having paid off.

Peterson had nothing but praise for the students.

“They learned so quickly this week. I was really impressed,” said Peterson. “It was fun to see them create stuff because they had no preconceived notions of what they should be doing.” 

Another creative class at Horizons was “Fun with Clay,” taught during the third week of June by Benjie Heu, assistant professor in the Department of Art. Heu gave students some guidelines and basic ideas, but students were given freedom to create whatever they wanted.

Carson Majors, Heu’s assistant, said many students enroll in the class a few years in a row.

“Some of the kids get pretty good at the pottery wheel; better than some adults I’ve seen,” said Majors. “It’s impressive.”

Majors also said the students really respond to Heu’s style of teaching. Each day Heu introduced a new concept, and by the end of the week, tables were filled with pieces of art.

“The class had to be organized in order for the students to produce this much work and have it put through the kiln for parents to retrieve it next week,” said Majors.

Among the clay creations were miniature bears, rabbits, forks and spoons, mice and cheese sets and even a picture frame with clay letters spelling out “I LOVE YOU MOM.”

 On the final day of class, Heu led the students through the process of glazing.

“Once the baked clay is dunked in a bucket of glaze,” Heu said, “it’s baked again at 2,345 degrees and the glaze hardens. You could eat out of it if you wanted.”

The students lined up and happily dunked their clay art into buckets of glaze, choosing from several different colors and making their hard work permanent.

Whether children are interested in artistic expression, biology, programming computer games, archaeology or making movies, Horizons offers education under the guise of fun.

For more information on Horizons, call (573)986-6879 or e-mail


Students enrolled in the Horizon’s “Musical Theatre Dance” summer youth enrichment class had an opportunity to create their own choreographed dance moves.