Yes! Math and Science Are Fun. Students Rise to the Summer Academic Challenge

June 26, 2014

Local students take free science and math classes at University of Puget Sound:
June 25–July 23

– Who would like to be a radio disc jockey? You can bet plenty of hands will go up when a group of Pierce County schoolchildren visit the KPLU jazz music studios in Tacoma’s south side on Tuesday, July 1.

Jazz fans or not, the 20 or so students should find it a treat to meet some local celebrity disc jockeys and to learn about the workings of the National Public Radio affiliate.

The students are part of a larger group of about 65 children—entering grades seven to 12 this fall—who have enrolled for Summer Academic Challenge, run each year by University of Puget Sound and Tacoma Public Schools.

For 20 intensive days, from June 25 to July 23, the students will study in the university’s classrooms and laboratories, and visit sites including Owen Beach, The Museum of Flight, a window manufacturer, and KBTC television studios. The math and science classes are offered free to selected students, thanks to the generous support of local businesses.

Run by Puget Sound’s Access Programs, Summer Academic Challenge is targeted at promising young people from groups underrepresented in higher education, such as students of color and those from low-income families.

The “challenge,” as the college, schools, and parents see it, is to inspire the young people with a love of learning in math and science, and to give them the confidence and knowledge to eagerly pursue their studies in school. Ultimately many of the students do decide to apply to college.   

The students do not get it easy, however. To participate they must promise to show up on the Puget Sound campus for class—on time—every one of the 20 days. Their parents, too, are enlisted to make sure their kids attend. Often what the students discover is that the classes and the college setting are so exciting, they want to come back year after year.

“Much has been written about how important it is that schoolchildren do not lose ground in their studies over the summer,” said Joseph Colón, Access Programs coordinator. “With the enthusiastic teachers we get from Pierce County schools and with our own college students acting as assistants, we find the children really dive into the work and ask excellent questions. By the end they feel more confident about the next school year, and we are all energized by the experience.”

Summer Academic Challenge is just one offering from the Access Programs partnership run by Puget Sound and Tacoma Public Schools. Many local students also apply for programs offering evening tutoring, mentoring opportunities, campus visits, and career days.

Data collected by Puget Sound indicates that Summer Academic Challenge students in the 2011 and 2012 high school graduating classes far exceeded expectations for their peers as a whole. Ninety-three percent of them graduated from high school on time, compared to the current 73.5 percent rate overall for students at Tacoma Public Schools (using data collected for the grade nine cohort that was due to graduate high school in 2013). At the last tally in 2013, 86 percent of the same Summer Academic Challenge students were enrolled in higher education—well above the 66 percent for all American high school graduates, as last reported by the National Center for Education. (See: Recent high school graduates and their enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges, by gender: 1960 through 2012.)

 Each year Summer Academic Challenge students are broken into three groups according to their grade level. This year the groups will be studying programs titled: Technology and Communications; From Earth to Mars; and a new course that introduces them to three different programs: Water Quality, Marine and Maritime Studies, and DNA and Genetics.

On July 23, the students will give multimedia presentations to parents, peers, and community members about what they have learned. Puget Sound has been conducting the Summer Academic Challenge program since 1989.

This year’s generous sponsors of Summer Academic Challenge include the Baker Foundation, Dimmer Family Foundation, Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation, and KeyBank Foundation.

Press photos of students at earlier Summer Academic Challenge classes and laboratories are available by emailing

Photos on page: Top right: visit to the Museum of Flight; Above left: water sampling at Ruston Way; Above right: students do an experiment called the "drop zone."

Tweet this: School’s in for summer! Kids from @tacomaschools are hard at work @univpugetsound Summer Academic Challenge

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