Panther Academy grows in second semester

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As the second half of the school year gets into full swing, Panther Academy – Liberty Hill’s newest after school program introduced in the fall – is offering a set of new courses to students.
Since its introduction, the Panther Academy program has grown significantly, offering three times the courses than before. Everything about the program has blossomed, said program director Kenna Park.
“Since fall, we’ve tripled the number of classes available and expanded on all but one course,” she said. “Parents love it. The number of students enrolled has tripled as well.”
With a successful fall effort under their belt, a seemingly successful spring taking place now, and positive feedback from both parents and students, Park hopes to continue to grow the program heading into the future.
“We will continue to expand what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re going to continue to add classes and to energize the teachers involved.”
Currently, all courses available are based on the unique skills that the teachers running them already have. The ukulele course being offered at Rancho Sienna is only possible because educator Addie Henry just so happened to know how to play the instrument.
In the ukulele course, students sit on the floor with their instruments. Henry sits in front, using a screen that plays music for the kids to follow on the right and a board with different chords on the left. During the most recent course, Henry helped her class play the Harry Nilsson classic, Coconut.
Ava Van Noy, one of the students learning ukulele, was drawn to the course to create common ground with her musically inclined sibling.
“My sister has a guitar, and she wanted me to try something similar to it,” said Van Noy. “I thought that it would be fun to try something new and different.”
Van Noy enjoys the process of learning chords and working with the instrument.
“I like that we learn different things about the chords and how we strum the strings,” said Van Noy. “The hardest thing has been learning how to do C-7 and how to strum down with it. I think it’s fun, and I like it.”
At Bill Burden Elementary, a ruckus can be heard from down the hall as students work on experiments for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) course.
Controlled chaos might be the best way to describe the scene in Jessica Kelm’s course. Students move around the room, spilling water on desks as they fill boats made of aluminum foil with pennies, in an attempt to test how many pennies, the small sea vessel can hold in water.
Sebastian Phegley, one of the close to 25 students in the course, immediately comes across as very curious and well-spoken. Phegley’s curiosity and love of science is the driving force for his interest in the STEM program.
“I really like science and chemistry, and when I grow up, I want to be an architect, inventor, and also chemist,” he said. “Also, I really wanted to build some LEGO robots.”
Sasha Marchenko, like Phegley, possesses a great curiosity and is using the STEM course to help satisfy the curious itch. Aside from her scientific interest, Marchenko wants to use what she learns to bond with her father at home.
“I like it because I like science and I like doing experiments and trying new things,” she said. “I like figuring out things that I didn’t know. I always wanted to make a robot dog with my dad, we’re even looking for stuff around our house.”
Before working on their aluminum boats this session, in their last class, the group worked on a marshmallow catapult, an experiment that both Marchenko and Phegley took great joy in.
“For the catapult, mine didn’t really work out, but I got to try a lot of new things,” said Marchenko. “The boat was really cool to make cause we wanted to see how many pennies it would hold, and we got it to 137. We kept trying to make a bigger boat and fit more on it.”
In the gym at Liberty Hill Elementary, Lori Cosper has her students lined up on one side of the gym, armed with their golf clubs, practicing putting across the floor and into their hole.
The inspirations for picking up the sport vary.
“I wanted to do golf because my dad got me interested in doing it.” Said Marissa Andrade.
Levi Windle presented one of the more out of the box reasons.
“My dad wants me to play baseball and golf, not football, because it hurts your brain.”
When asked what they found most challenging about the game, the answer was unanimous across the board. Hitting the ball.
With excitement for the program at a high, Park believes keeping things in the house the way they are now is best for the district, even as growth continues to happen. While outside vendors have approached with offers to run programs, Park doesn’t want to add too much too soon.
“Some of those outside vendors have been contacting us, ready to come in,” said Park. “We’re not quite ready for that because it’s so new. We want our teachers to have an opportunity.”

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