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OWjL Program at OWU Celebrates 25th Birthday

June 14, 2006

DELAWARE, Ohio — When Leah Farzine was in middle school, OWjL camp made the difference.“This camp was such a big deal to me,” Farzine said. Now in her fourth year as an OWjL camp counselor, Farzine was a camper for three years. She made best friends during the annual one-week program, “people I’m still friends with,” she said. She learned she wasn’t alone.OWjL – pronounced “owl” – is a program for gifted and talented sixth-, seventh- and eighth graders from nine Ohio counties. Founded in 1981 by the Junior League of Columbus and Ohio Wesleyan, the program includes class sessions, lively evening activities, and the chance to experience life on a college campus.Now in its 25th year, OWjL is thriving along with the students it serves. Some 500 campers will attend this summer’s three sessions. More than 8,000 students have experienced OWjL in the last quarter century.Before coming to camp, students choose four classes, guided by a course description booklet. Divided into “Creative Arts & Humanities” and “Science, Mathematics, Computers, Logic,” the more than 70 courses include dance, the art and culture of Japan, stage makeup techniques, the Chinese exercise form Tai Chi Chuan, mock trial, photography and architecture.Eight students met this week in a Conrades classroom for the class “Be a Science Sleuth.” Taught by retired Columbus Public Schools teacher Bob Koch, the class examines the source of contaminated water, a case of pesticide pollution and other real-life mysteries.Hannah Stubbs, an eighth-grader from Marysville, said she chose the class because it sounded fun.“I like mysteries. I’ve wondered how people solve mysteries,” she said.
Koch, in his eighth year as an OWjL instructor, said he adapted the course from one he taught at Linden-McKinley High School. The high school students appreciated the challenge and so do OWjL campers, he said.Koch also teaches an OWjL course called Endangered Species, during which he brings his rescued greyhounds to class for a day. A Pickerington resident, he commutes to Delaware every day for three weeks.“It takes me an hour to get here, but what the heck. I enjoy it,” he said.
OWjL Director Susan Paxton said OWjL was founded after the Junior League of Columbus determined that fewer than 35 percent of Ohio students identified as gifted and talented received enrichment services. Hoping to bridge that gap, JL members evaluated area universities, declared Ohio Wesleyan  “an especially good fit,” and launched the program that changed thousands of lives, Farzine’s among them.“When you’re the smart kid you don’t always relate to people,” Farzine said. “At OWjL camp I was, dare I say, popular. Here, I made friends instantly.”Farzine, a competitive figure skater from Upper Arlington who attends Miami University, said after her first camp session she went home and said, “Mom! The kids got my jokes!”
Paxton said that validation is a common experience among OWjL campers.“I think the students thrive here,” she said. “They can be themselves at it’s OK.”
Gifted students are like plants, Paxton said. The plants may be OK, but give them a “super shot of fertilizer” and watch the results.“It’s been growing, but now you put it in the sunlight and it’s allowed to bloom all over the place,” she said.Camp fees are $540 for a week. Financial aid is available. There’s always a waiting list.
Parents describe OWjL as “a major pivotal event” in their child’s life, Paxton said. They tell her about quiet children who chatter all the way home. More than a few campers return as OWjL counselors, head counselors and teachers. Significant numbers enroll at Ohio Wesleyan after high school graduation.“It’s pretty amazing. It’s just very rewarding,” she said. “You feel like you’re making a difference.”Barb Stultz of the OWjL office, a member of the OWjL advisory board, echoed that sentiment. She particularly enjoys registration, she said, “when I get to put a face with this name that you’ve worked with for so long.”Paxton attributed OWjL’s success to OWU’s whole-hearted participation in the program. OWU professors were invited to teach, “and they did,” she said. “Behind-the-scenes” departments, including housekeeping, information services, the print services office, buildings and grounds and others all work to coordinate the effort.
“We are a fully integrated university program,” Paxton said.For many OWjL campers, their week at OWU is their enrichment for the year.
“And they eat it up,” Farzine said.

In Koch’s Science Sleuth classroom, Stubbs confirmed that. “I like it because here you don’t have to be the smart kid,” she said. “You can just be kind of regular.”