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Scholars Start Community Engagement Projects at Pond Gap Elementary School 

By Alex Brito, David Marsh, and Louis Varriano

Science Saturday

Scholars Elle Johnson and Geoffrey Hervey demonstrate an experiment to Pond Gap students at a Science Saturday.

Starting this fall, the Haslam Scholars Program has been engaging in a variety of service opportunities at Pond Gap Elementary and other Title I schools in the Knoxville community. Scholars have completed over 500 hours of service at Pond Gap this semester. Among these intellectually stimulating activities are after-school tutoring and homework help sessions, academic clubs, and a community garden project. Three organizations in particular—the Pond Gap Robotics Club, the Science Saturday Club, and the French Club—were founded this year by Haslam scholars and have continued to grow and develop throughout the semester. Each of these programs was designed to offer students a chance to expand their knowledge base through nontraditional teaching methods, from hands-on experiments to interactive games, that allow them to apply and even surpass their core curriculum.

The Pond Gap Robotics Club aims to expose the students at Pond Gap to basic engineering principles through the use of Lego Mindstorm robots, a program specifically designed to engage young kids in the world of science and technology. The elementary students are placed into teams to build a robot and program it to complete a variety of fun challenges. Currently, the Robotics Club meets once a week for two hours at Pond Gap. With four mentors and eight to ten kids a week, the Robotics Club has been able to work closely with students to introduce them to concepts and ways of thinking they have never seen before. The club has successfully led students through the building and programming of three robots. In the coming semester, there are plans to expand to other elementary schools in the area, and the scholars involved are excited to get more elementary students engaged in the field of robotics.

Scholar Libby Fortunato assists a student in testing her robot in Robotics Club.

Scholar Libby Fortunato assists a student in testing her robot in Robotics Club.

The Saturday Science Club works with elementary and middle school students to engage in exploratory science projects with members of the Haslam Scholars Program and the Society of Physics Students. The program focuses on bringing free and fun science experiences to lower-income and lower-performing Knoxville schools to encourage students to continue their science educations. A total of three Saturday Science Clubs have been held at Pond Gap Elementary and Vine Magnet Middle School. Approximately seventy students from these two schools have participated, with more than thirty undergraduate volunteers. It is hoped that the Saturday Science Club program can be expanded to even more Knoxville-area schools in the future.

French Club at Pond Gap, too, has grown since its conception this fall and continues to expand in both membership and scope of activities. The volunteers who lead the lessons consist of both Haslam Scholars and members of UT’s French Honor Society, some of them planning to become a teacher or professor. French Club offers its volunteers a unique leadership opportunity in which they can share their knowledge of and passion for French language and culture with children who are eager to soak up the new words around them. The age range found in elementary schools is extremely conducive to language acquisition, yet the importance of foreign language is often overlooked in state standards. The goal of French Club is to introduce students to the joys of learning a new language at an early age, and ultimately to provide them with a cultural understanding and skill set that will serve them well later in life.

French Club

Scholars Alex Brito and Joshua Brown teach students during French Club.

By working at Pond Gap Elementary and other schools in the Knoxville community through these service opportunities, the Haslam scholars have been able to make a positive impact on the bright-eyed students who fill their classrooms. The service engagement will continue in the spring with innovative ideas and lesson plans that will only increase the students’ excitement about the subject matter. Working at Pond Gap Elementary and other Knoxville schools has brought the scholars together in such a way that has elucidated their potential to share their academic pursuits with the community.