Juniors Ella Hensley and Trevor Peterson are back at Webb City High School after spending part of their summer at the Missouri Scholars Academy in Columbia. (AMANDA ROBBINS PHOTO)

Ella Hensley and Trevor Peterson experienced Missouri Scholars Academy – in person

by Stacy Stockton
Gifted and honors programs
Webb City R-7 School District

Over three weeks in June, the (very warm) air at University of Missouri in Columbia was filled with talk of chemistry, reading of poetry, jazz improvisations, and some philosophical discussions. All of this from some 330 of Missouri’s top scholars, gathered for a summer tradition, the Missouri Scholars Academy, finally held in person once again, after two years of virtual programs.

Students from all over the state are selected for the Academy from applications that include GPAs, PSAT test scores, teacher recommendations, and essays. Webb City is only allowed two nominees for the Academy. This year, Ella Hensley and Trevor Peterson were selected and attended. Once at the Academy, each student took a “major” and a “minor” class, while living on campus at Mizzou for three weeks during June.

Ella’s major was “O Critics, Where Art Thou?” which taught students to look at works of literature through various lenses. Students read and discussed short stories and historical models of literary criticism. Trevor’s major “To Infinity & Beyond” literally taught students the math and philosophy of calculating infinity. The class was fast-paced and encouraged discovery from students and sharing with the class.

Minor classes were held each afternoon for an hour. Ella was in a minor examining James Bond. Even though some of the students did not know much about James Bond when the summer began, they do now. Trevor’s minor of “Introduction to Philosophy” was discussion-based and while Trevor tried to stay out of the somewhat heated arguments some classmates would get into, he still learned a lot from reading and discussing classic works of philosophy like Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”

Each day was filled with other activities, too including Core PSD, which focuses on teambuilding and character as well as self-awareness and self-confidence. Afternoon activities featured demonstrations of a camera obscura, music groups, or a chance to learn sign language. In the evenings, students were able to listen to impressive guest speakers: a chess master, an astronaut, a Nobel Prize winner, a pediatric oncologist, a comedian, and a UN ambassador. Both students said that a talk from a Holocaust survivor was one of the most impactful.

After two years of virtual programs during the pandemic, organizers were thrilled to bring back traditions like Taiso to begin the day and displays of learning at the closing ceremonies: Trevor’s group did a skit and Ella’s did a gallery walk. On Alumni Day, people who attended the Academy in the past attend and participate in the activities. This was special for both Ella and Trevor. Ella’s father, Joe Hensley, attended the Academy in 1989, and Trevor’s brother Connor was selected for the 2020 MSA (which was subsequently canceled because of the pandemic), were both able to be part of the alumni day.

Both students felt that they gained much more than just academic learning from this experience. They feel prepared to head to college soon. Missouri Scholars Academy continues to be a transformative experience for Webb City students.