COLUMBIA - Learning about Japanese language and culture and the ethics of dodge ball isn't something most high school sophomores want to do over summer vacation.
But three area sophomores - Catherine Cooney of Sikeston, Elias Borton of Catron and Wesley Hurlebusch of Bernie - are doing that right now, at the 21st annual Missouri Scholars Academy.
"It's just a lot of fun and has been a really good learning experience so far," said Catherine, 16, who attends Sikeston High School.
And all 15-year-old Elias, who attends New Madrid County Central, could say was "wow."
The three-week residential program is held on the University of Missouri-
Columbia campus. MSA has been in session since June 12, and will wrap up July 2.
The students choose their own academic major and minor for the session, from humanities, social studies, math or science.
Sixteen-year-old Bernie High School student Wesley's major is "African American History Through the Stages," where the class learns historical events about African Americans, then incorporates them into plays, which they put on. And in his minor, "Creation and Analysis of Music Video," which looks at music videos from an artistic point of view, he will help create a video.
Elias, who is considering becoming an engineer, chose "Puzzles, Games and Problem Solving" as his major. "For about half the class, we learn a formula to solve a certain type of math problem and solve similar problems," he said. The remaining time is left to play games or solve puzzles, such as a rubrics cube. "Left to Our Own Devices," his chosen minor, allows the class to distribute audio content of things that are going on at the academy and putting in on I Pods for others.
And "Socratic Seminars," where the class reads text, such as poems and short stories, then discusses the author's intent and how the literature applies to their lives, is Catherine's chosen major. In her minor, "Short," the group also analyzes stories. She has never been a good speaker, but the classes are helping her with discussions, Catherine said.
Majors meet for three hours every morning, while minors meet for two hours in the afternoon, with one hour being devoted to a Personal and Social Dynamics seminar.
In between classes, the students have several options to fill their time. Some of the highlights for Wesley included street dancing and self defense. "They're also planning on teaching us how to salsa dance, so that sounds cool," he said of the future event.
And although the students aren't allowed to leave campus, they're busy on weekends too, with their major and minor alternating as a three hour class on Saturday, along with speakers and other activities, both social and learning. For instance, Elias has participated in a chess tournament and science competition.
Attending the academy is an honor. Only about 330 students from Missouri are chosen to participate. "It's based on grades, GPA, your score on the PLAN test an IQ test and two written essays," Catherine said.
While the students are missing out of three weeks of their summer break, it is well worth it to them. "It is a once in a lifetime experience," Wesley said.
MSA is also teaching the students some life lessons. "You learn responsibility, like making sure you always have clean clothes and taking care of yourself because you don't have your mom there," Elias said.
Catherine loves being able to meet various people. She also embraced the early college experience. "It's a good thing to know we can handle being in a dorm, away from our parents and sharing a bathroom," she said.
For Wesley, MSA has been a good experience learning how to manage his money. He also agreed with Catherine, that the preparation for college life is good, and he has met many people he will remain friends with.
"I've come in contact with different people, with different opinions," he said. "I've heard it was good, but I never really imagined it would be this good - every day has been a blast."
Other area students attending MSA, but unavailable for comments, were Adrienne Angelos of Sikeston, Lyndon Chen of Dexter and Jonathen Ramsey of Oran.