Community Foundation enables educational summer for Seminar students

A common question for students as they return to school each year is, “hey, what did you do this summer?”

For a group of 55 Polk County students, a portion of the answer definitely included spending a fun and educational week taking part in AIG Summer Seminars funded by Polk County Community Foundation.

The AIG Summer Seminars are held each year and offer students a chance to participate in unique learning experiences. That certainly was the case in the summer of 2023 for students enrolled in one of the six seminars that were offered.

During the seminar taught by Jeanne Ferran, students went on plant walks at Pearson’s Falls, learned about edible and medicinal plants, created their own essential oil, learned about rich cove habitats and made elderberry syrup.

Class members visited Tryon Arts & Crafts School to create clay mugs for medicinal tea with locally foraged plants and made elderberry syrup.

Students also learned about how to make and use locally foraged plants to treat different ailments.

July brought an opportunity for students to take part in AIG Summer Camp: Crime Busters with facilitator Elisa Flynn.

Students had an exciting week of mysteries to solve using forensic science to help them. During the week, they worked on observation skills, deduction skills and learning tricks of the forensic science world. Students learned about blood typing, fingerprinting, shoe trend patterns and much more.

The week culminated with the case of “The Lost Skull,” where students had six clues to decide which claimant owned the skull.


Rebekah Morse facilitated a seminar in which students spent four days at Polk County Middle expressing creativity and practicing being mindful.

Each day, usually outside, the group started with a mindfulness activity. Students were given a daily topic such as energy drainers, how to give/receive love to others, managing stress, it’s a bad day not a bad life, how we can get through hard circumstances with self care and surrounding ourselves with supportive people.

These topics were all part of bullet journaling sessions. Each student designed a bullet journal and set up an agenda for the upcoming school year creating SMART goals.

Students also participated in embroidery. Many students had never threaded a needle before, but that didn’t stop them. Student Scottlynn Whiteside designed her butterfly piece and finished it during the session!

The group had a great week together and learned several creative outlets that can be used throughout their lives.

In the Lil Wolverines Chef seminar, students cooked and baked a variety of foods.

Students made breakfast rolls, mini chicken pot pies, fruit pizza cookies, Oreo pops and bread-in-a-bag. The bread-in-a-bag and Oreo pops were two of the favorites from the week.

Students also conducted science experiments each day. They did a color taste test, pasta boiling experiment, cake experiment, and milk & cookie test.

At the end of the seminar, facilitator Ginger Rackley gave students a chef’s hat and potholder of their very own!


In the Curious Naturalist seminar, students in the group focused on species identification and nature journaling.

One goal of the week was to get students out into nature and have them “slow down” a little so that they would start to observe, appreciate and make connections with the ecosystem around them. Nature Journaling has shown to improve brain development and reduce stress.

The students and facilitator Stephanie Luedi talked about journaling, not only with words, but also with pictures and numbers. They discussed building confidence in journaling and that the more you practice, the better you will get. A few students even chose to watercolor in their journals.

During one class day, students had the option to fish for a little while. While fishing, the group talked about the relationship between the macroinvertebrates, fish and water quality. Students identified many species through exploration, such as dusky salamanders, eastern newts, various turtles, and even a green heron! Students also identified and preserved the leaves of many trees around the area.

Unfortunately, a kayaking trip down the Green River planned for the group was canceled due to a tanker accident that leaked gasoline into Cove Creek, which runs into the lower Green River. Instead, the group pulled up a map of the area and discussed the situation. It turned out to be a very real world learning experience. Students pivoted and spent that day exploring the Pacolet River at Harmon Field, also taking time to remove waste from the river due to the recent flooding.

“I cannot express enough how wonderful it is getting outside and learning with students through exploration,” Luedi said. “It encourages them to be curious and to ask questions, which we know can lead to scientific breakthroughs.”


Facilitator Linley Foster led the Coding and Robotics seminar at Polk County Middle School.

Students had the opportunity to work with several small robots such as Spheros and Lego robotics, learning basic coding for the robots using coding blocks.

Students engaged in hands-on engineering activities designed around the robots such as creating ramps, mazes, games and bridges for the robots.

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