For some middle school and high school students summer is all about relaxing and having fun. To others it’s a time to get a leg up academically. At Harker, it’s an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.
By combining a morning academic program with afternoon activities, Harker’s Summer Institute (SI) gives students in grades 6-12 the chance to earn credits, learn new skills, follow their passions and have a whole lot of summer fun.
But Harker students aren’t the only ones with these options. During summer the school opens its doors to the general public, attracting local residents to its Saratoga campus, where this year’s SI runs from June 18 to Aug. 10. A total of 722 students are enrolled in the program, of which more than half are non-Harker students.
The institute’s learning program offers rigorous for-credit courses such as algebra, economics and programming, as well as non-credit opportunities for enrichment and growth like creative writing, drawing and robotics.
A range of group afternoon activities are planned for middle schoolers. And, while there are no organized happenings for high school students, they have free afternoon drop-in access to the library, pool, art room, Ping Pong table, basketball courts and study spaces. For all grades, an on-site prepared lunch is included as part of the overall program.
Some examples of featured planned group events for the middle school grades are: making sidewalk art and tiki masks in the Olympic Village (aka the orchestra room next to Rosenthal Field), having water wars and boogie board relays in the pool, playing Hawaiian handball in the gym, and going on field trips to the beach.
On one particularly gorgeous sunny day, a group of SI participants were immersed in an exciting game of street hockey out on the front blacktop. Meanwhile, another group was equally engaged in a drum-making activity on the adjacent field.
Taking a break on a bench on the sidelines, participant Daniel Liu Miller, 11, looked up as a light breeze blew the paper he was holding. Miller is not a Harker student, but learned about the program from a friend who attends the school. Now back for his second year at the institute, he said he especially looks forward to all the fun afternoon activities.
Sitting next to him, Jedwin Mok, also 11, said he had previously attended camp over at the lower school, and has now moved up the ranks for his first year as a Summer Institute participant. His favorite part of the program is the morning academics where he is studying robotics.
Meanwhile, busily building a drum by hand, Sophia Angus, a Harker student who will be entering grade 6 this fall, said this is her third year attending a summer program and her second year attending Harker as a regular student. In fact, it was her initial experience going to camp at the lower school that prompted the switch to becoming a year-round Harker student. She said the best thing about SI, and Harker, are “the incredibly supportive people,” including her coaches, teachers and friends.
Standing out on the Rosenthal Field next to Angus, SI counselor Adam Smith explained that the campers were making drum sets from scratch and would then be decorating them. His first year working as a counselor, Smith, a staff member of Harker’s regular after-school BEST program (the Bucknall/Blackford Enrichment and Supervision Team) said he is really enjoying his new summer role, and that the institute had gotten off to a great start.
Street hockey and drum-making were just a couple of many fun activities which kicked off the SI. Another was making banana lumpia with Danae McLaughlin, Harker’s executive sous chef. For this activity, the students were allowed to get a “behind the scenes” look at The Edge’s kitchen facility, where they learned to make the yummy Filipino dessert made with bananas wrapped in spring-roll-like wrappers and fried.
Their hands-on session began by creating a solution called “egg wash” with eggs and water, and dipping the wrappers into the mixture before winding them tightly around a banana. After baking and topping them off with powdered sugar, cinnamon, chocolate syrup and whipped cream — their sweet smell wafting down the hallway — each student ate several of the delicious creations.
In addition to making banana lumpia, Sukrit Arora, 12, a first year SI participant and non-Harker student who will be going into grade 8, also enjoyed another Filipino-themed activity: a traditional dance routine. “It was really fun and interesting,” said Arora, who has family and friends who go to Harker. “I also liked the free throw competition and capture the flag game.”
According to Chris Florio, director of the SI program, the wide range of choices and flexibility allows each student to design a schedule around his or her own academic needs and personal interests, giving everyone just the right mix of summer activity, learning and fun.
Although it is her first time at a Harker summer program, soon to be seventh grader Jenna Sladlu has been attending the school since kindergarten. “Yeah, I’m a Harker K-lifer,” she enthused, noting how much has enjoyed meeting new summer friends. “It’s more laid back than during the regular school year … with more activities and freedom. I’m really glad Harker made the Summer Institute and highly recommend it!”