Five years ago, Johnson University partnered with the Emerald Youth Foundation to create Royal Explorers, a two-week summer science camp experience for Knoxville middle-schoolers. Dr. Nikki Votaw, director of the Templar School of Education’s graduate studies, had created a similar project as part of her doctoral work and approached Emerald Youth with a three-year proposal for the camp in 2014.
“The first year the camp was one of several options for the students, and 15 kids chose to be part of it. The second year we had 20, and the third year we had 30 kids and a waitlist for more,” Votaw says. “After the third year, Emerald Youth’s leaders suggested Royal Explorers be the option, and every middle schooler in their program participated.”
This summer, the Royal Explorers welcomed more than 90 middle-schoolers. Sixth graders studied sound, with outings to the Knoxville Fire Station, television station WATE, the Forbidden Caverns, Neyland Stadium, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Seventh graders focused on the theme of “Meeting Basic Needs through Modern Living;” the two weeks included exploration of food, shelter, transportation, and electricity with trips to Clayton Homes, the University of Tennessee Dairy Farm, and a TVA Dam. Eighth graders studied heat and enjoyed cooking challenges in the Johnson University kitchen and trips to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, the University of Tennessee athletic training facility, and Stanley’s Greenhouse.
Emerald Youth staff, Johnson University alumni—many of whom are teachers in Knoxville schools—and current JU students in the graduate holistic education program staff the camp and work as small group leaders.
While Johnson University and Emerald Youth celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Royal Explorers program this summer, they also began planning a new partnership to support high school students. Emerald’s Calling and Career Ministry in North Knoxville, Mechanicsville, and Lonsdale offers urban youth opportunities for tutoring, college and career readiness workshops, assessments, trips, and other resources. Beginning this fall, Johnson will be a university partner.
This partnership involves more than a financial investment. Throughout the year, Johnson admissions staff will visit the Calling and Career locations for recruitment events, presentations, and one-on-one advising. JU work-study students will provide staff support and tutoring throughout the week, and University faculty and staff will share information on financial aid, standardized tests, and college preparation. Johnson and Emerald will also explore a dual enrollment program which will allow eligible students to receive credit toward both their high school diplomas and their college degrees.
“Our relationship with Johnson University is such a benefit to the young people we serve in the heart of Knoxville,” said Shara Shoup, Emerald Youth’s Chief Operating Officer. “The faculty at Johnson genuinely care about our city’s youth, and we are grateful for the University’s commitment to strengthening their hearts and minds.”