Summer school where students THINK

This is not the first time education in the Claremont Unified School District, and in the state at large, has faced an economic crisis.

In 1978, Proposition 13, an amendment to the California constitution significantly limiting the property taxes once used to fund education, was enacted with much fanfare.

In 1982—with the education budget decimated and summer school in Claremont and the surrounding districts slashed—master educators Kay Conley and Susan Warren stepped in to establish an academic enrichment program called Project THINK.

Their goal was simple: turn summer “learning loss” into intellectual gain.

Thirty-two years later, summer school has been cut again, and Project THINK is still going strong. Some 137 students ranging from kindergartners to eighth graders are gathering at the Old School House for a 3-week session providing hands-on, minds-open learning opportunities.

From 8:30 a.m. to noon, “Young Thinkers” in grades K-2 are exposed to a rotating schedule of language arts, math, computers, science, geography, art, music and movement. The older students focus on similar subjects, with the added components of drama and a problem-solving course called “Think Tank.” 

Students can also opt for an afternoon session, which features classes like Spanish, swimming and performing arts.

“We believe it’s important for kids to keep their minds stimulated over the summer,” Ms. Warren said.

On Thursday, June 28, the COURIER caught up with several Project THINK students taking a conversational Spanish course. Their teacher, Brittany Estrada, was quizzing them on the body parts, using the TPR or total physical response method.

“What if you wanted to do a little salsa dance?” she asked, putting her hands on her waist and swiveling in an impromptu mambo. Her 6 students, ranging from 8 to 12, yelled out the word she was looking for—“cintura,” which is Spanish for waist.

“It’s good,” said 12-year-old Brad Bowens of his experience at Project THINK. He especially likes his science instruction, where students recently engaged in a cool experiment. If you bury a ping-pong ball in a jar of rice and shake it up, the ball will magically rise, he shared.

Students have so much fun that many return year after year, said Ms. Warren. In many cases, students who are Project THINK alumni are now coming back to the program to enroll their own children. Others return as volunteer student helpers once they move on to high school or college.

Project THINK teachers create their own curriculum, within the confines of an overarching theme. This year’s theme is “Mysteries,” a topic particularly suited to the Think Tank problem-solving class. 

“Things are not as simple as ‘Mark the right circle, A, B or C,’” said Ms. Warren, an education program director at Azusa Pacific University. “They really spend time using their brain to deduce how to solve this conundrum, this mathematic problem.”

Mamie Dinani, a retired teacher who has traveled to Claremont from Chico in order to participate in Project THINK, has enjoyed incorporating this year’s theme into her math instruction for Young Thinkers, who have delved into “the mystery of place values” and “the mystery of word problems.”

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

Along with charismatic instruction, the students of Project THINK enjoy walking field trips as well as Friday visits from mystery animals. Last week, it was a gargantuan boa constrictor. On Friday, June 28, the special guest was a tortoise.

The kids didn’t have to go far for one of their field trips. They headed over to the office of Ervin Youngblood, located right in the Old School House. Since retiring from the LAPD, Mr. Youngblood has forged a career as a polygraph examiner. He gave the children a lesson about lies, the truth and the special equipment that can detect the physiological responses triggered by each choice.

“I was quite impressed with how smart they were,” he said.

His assessment may not be completely impartial, considering that one of his school-age visitors was his own grandson. Last year, the boy was part of Project THINK, and the swimming lessons taught him to overcome a crippling fear of water.

“Now I can’t keep him out of the water,” Mr. Youngblood laughed.

His grandson is back for another year, a true testament, because Mr. Youngblood admits his LAPD history has made him skeptical about anyone who wants to work with children.

“I wouldn’t bring him back this year if I wasn’t entirely happy,” he said.

Project THINK is still accepting applications for its second session, which will run from July 9-27.

For information on prices and enrollment, call Susan Warren at 717-7848 or visit 

—Sarah Torribio  




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