Youngsters get a feel for college

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ava Chesak laughes at her brother Andy, dressed in the uniform of a Confederate sharpshooter from the Civil War during Kids College Tuesday at Riverland Community College. -- Eric Johnson/

The Civil War came to life at a Riverland Community College classroom Tuesday.

Fourth, fifth and sixth-graders dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers stood around, listening to Major General Henry Sibley (played by local historian Michael Eckers) play the jawharp, what he calls the “150-year-old iPod.”

Kiley Kusick imprints a pattern onto a leather bracelett during a leather-working class during Kids College at Riverland Community College. - Eric Johnson/

An hour earlier, a group of students prepared to catch a rocket shooting more than 300 miles per hour, which narrowly missed hitting the Riverland West building.

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“Awesome!” the kids shouted as Ken Fiscus gathered his launch pad and supplies.

Meanwhile, a group of students carefully pounded on leather key fabs with wooden mallets, creating designs and intricate-looking patterns in a leather work class.

This is just a regular day at Riverland’s Kids College, an annual summer program more than eight years old and growing larger by the year.

“It’s fantastic,” said Peggy Young, Riverland training and development coordinator. “We really want the kids to get a feel for college.”

Diana Ross of Two Bears Trading Post helps kids out with some leather work during Kids College Tuesday at Riverland Community College. - Eric Johnson/

That’s one way to put what’s going on Riverland classrooms this week. Students take two classes based on their interests, whether it be forensic science, the Civil War, French lessons, weird science (which involves blowing up bars of soap) and more for at least one and a half hours at a time.

“It’s fun,” said Kasey Manges, fifth grader, about the Civil War class. “You sort of get to go back in time.”

The classes are taught at an advanced level. Students in CSI get hands-on demonstrations that aren’t found in public school classrooms, and the students at the Civil War course learned firsthand what certain trim, colors and designs on a soldier’s uniform (tailored for the period) meant.

“It’s the biggest thing to happen to America,” said Eckers.

Students of all backgrounds are learning here, as the classes use students’ interests to teach advanced concepts in a way not normally found in the classroom. That means the average student is more than welcome here.