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RACINE — Three area teaching professionals are seeking to rein in boredom and disinterest in local students through Saturday enrichment courses meant to stimulate students and make them more active in their own education.

The aim of the enrichment program at the Oakdale Center, which began its first 10-week semester last month, is to put students in grades one through six in group activities where they solve problems through discussion, but without the pressure of grades.

Describing it not as a school but as a complement to traditional school, the program is meant to provide students with a rigorous but enjoyable activity that drives their desire to learn, according to Pippin Michelli, a teacher at the center with a background in teaching art history at a college level.

“If the student can have at least one challenging and fun educational activity per week, that keeps them engaged and alert throughout the rest of the educational week,” she said.

Michelli, a Racine resident, and her fellow organizers Anna Matson and Xanthi Merlo came together with the idea of hands-on, educational activities for groups of children in the same age group through their own experiences.

While Matson, living in Caledonia, sought ways to engage her fast-learning daughter, Michelli observed adult university students participating less in class discussions and taking less ownership in their education over the years.

They trio came together with a vision to offer fun but challenging courses — as a complement to traditional school — where students solve problems through discussion and group experiments.

“What we are trying to do is create an opportunity for dialogue so that the curiosity does not die,” said Matson.

Matson formerly taught mathematics in Eastern Europe before settling in the United States about 15 years ago. She now works in information technology but has taught supplementary courses for young children at Marquette University and The Prairie School.

Her courses take the form of a Math Circle, in which students are posed a question or word problem that requires them to learn math and social skills along the way.

An example question asks third-graders: if five people attend a party and shake hands with every other person, how many handshakes were exchanged?

Although students start out confused, she said the students in the Math Circle eventually work together to test out ways of answering that question, Matson explained. She added that students are not graded to limit pressure on them, and they are encouraged to freely discuss their ideas.

She further noted that students can progress beyond just answering the question, such as finding if there’s a mathematical pattern in how many handshakes occur among five people, 10 people or any other number.

In addition, Michelli leads courses that use art to discuss philosophical problems and Merlo’s courses focus on applied sciences through hands-on construction projects.

Although the Oakdale Center currently operates out of rooms loaned to them by the Kismissis Greek Orthodox Church, 1335 S. Green Bay Road, the three teachers hope that the program will grow to include more locations, teachers and students.

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