Sometimes, it takes creative methods to get kids to learn.
In the case of Challenge Island, the lesson plans borrow some of the methods – and challenges – from the popular reality show, “Survivor.”
“It’s sort of like ‘Survivor’ in the classroom without the voting off and the drama,” says Tom Harrington, owner of Cary’s Challenge Island program. “We divide the kids into tribes with a hidden lesson plan.”
Challenge Island is an enrichment program that reinforces STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and core language arts skills through hands-on projects that encourage children to work together to come up with innovative solutions.
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For example, Harringon said, if 20 children were given an assignment, the teacher would get 20 pieces of homework. With Challenge Island, the children are divided into four groups, and they must work together to come up with a solution to their challenge.
“Kids really learn to work together, using the scientific method, designing, testing, revising and testing until complete,” he said.
Harrington brought the program to the Triangle in 2013 and says it’s been going “gangbusters” ever since.
“Parents love it,” he said.
Challenge Island is unique in that it comes to the students. The program often is held at schools as an after-school program and only requires space of the school.
“It’s a win-win all the way around,” Harrington said. “First, because it’s parent-funded. It doesn’t cost the school time or money. I handle all the registration and the staffing. I typically hire teachers at the school to run the program. I haven’t had any trouble finding teachers looking to earn extra money.”
Challenge Island targets first- through fifth-graders. Harrington also offers birthday parties, track-out camps and summer camps.
The program is designed with multiple islands. Each island is themed and runs once a week for eight weeks.
“Typically I sign up for one session, and by the fifth week, they are asking for another session,” Harrington said.
Harrington was an IT systems administrator at a New York law firm before he and his wife, Wendy, decided on a lifestyle change.
“We came here without jobs,” he said. The couple lives in Holly Springs.
An inheritance from his sister opened the door to Challenge Island.
“She helped raise me after my mother died when I was 5,” he said. “I wanted to do something to help kids like she had helped me.”
When he first started Challenge Island, he was the one doing the teaching. Now he concentrates on the day-to-day operations.
“It’s really facilitated,” he said. “It’s student-directed learning. We might start by asking them about roller coasters and what they know about them. That leads to topics like kinetic energy and potential energy.”
Soon, he said, the children are coming up with the questions and answers themselves.
“They’re working nonstop for the next hour,” he said. “It teaches kids to work collaboratively.
“Usually, children don’t start to learn to work like that until middle school but we’re doing it in first grade.”
Harrington said his goal is to grow to the point where he can hire management to run the company.
“It’s a whole lot better than working in a law firm,” he said.