Voyager program leads children on unique learning mission

The main mission of the program is to see that children are excited about learning.

Have you overheard a neighborhood child talking about a trip through space, starting a new business or writing poetry?

Four neighborhood elementary schools have been chosen as models for a new after-school education program designed to enhance the curricula taught during the day through a unique hands-on approach to learning.

Voyager Expanded Learning is being offered at Victor H. Hexter, Aikin, Merriman Park and Moss Haven elementary schools, as well as at six other RISD and DISD schools.

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“This program turns children on to learning and addresses all different kinds of intellects and styles,” says Hexter Elementary Voyager site director Linda Brunson.

Recently, RISD Supt. Vernon Johnson announced he will leave the district in the spring to head the company.

Students (K-6th grade) pay $160 per month to participate in learning “adventures” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays.

The program enriches the day’s core subjects with two-month modules that use a “highly participatory” approach to learning, Brunson says.

During “Spaceship of the Imagination”, students created planets and spaceships and were visited by NASA astronaut Mike Mullane. The hands-on science lesson touched on astronomy, history, mathematics, mythology and environmental science.

In “Success City U.S.A.,” students are transformed into business owners, employees and consumers, learning the importance of saving and how to become financially secure. After forming their company, students at Hexter made Smackers, a concoction of graham crackers, peanut butter and candied sprinkles, and decorated teddy bears to market and sell at school. The profits, which exceeded $1,000, will be used to buy a gift for the school, Brunson says.

“These kids actually understood profit and loss and how to promote a product,” she says. “This program is giving children a lot of confidence and keeping their interest in learning at a high level.”

This month students will begin “Kaleidoscope,” which focuses on literature, music and drama.

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“The purpose is to get them to express themselves,” Brunson says.

Becky Gershwa, whose children Mark, 5, and Katie, 9, are enrolled at Hexter, says Voyager is a smart alternative to day care.

“I justify the expense because of what they’re learning,” Gershwa says.

Gershwa says her children are more enthusiastic about learning because of Voyager.

“Katie was vice president of sales during Success City – I see a CEO in the future,” Gershwa says.

The program was the brainchild of Dallas business executive Randy Best and includes a staff of several well known educators.

Voyager was created last year because Best and other business leaders and educators believe that negative trends in today’s society have put children at risk, according to Voyager’s Barbara K. Nichols.

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Statistics show the hours immediately after school are when children are most vulnerable because they are often without supervision, Nichols says. Best designed an after-school program that offers an alternative to going home alone, watching television or “hanging out in the streets,” she says.

The main mission of the program is to see that children are excited about learning, Nichols says.

“After the school does everything they can do in a six-hour day, we take it from there because we have the time and resources,” Nichols says.

“We’re trying to be a partner in education.”

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