Courtesy of the Missouri Scholars Academy
By Tina Casagrand
The Missouri Scholars Academy—a three-week academic program—began thirty years ago with a simple formula: Gather 330 academically gifted high schoolers at Missouri’s leading research university. Teach in-depth classes by day, and host brilliant speakers at night. Be ready for anything.
Wright City Assistant Superintendent Dave Buck used to teach botany and bioethics at the academy. He says the resources at the University of Missouri allowed him to teach hands-on classes every day.
“There’s no way you can replicate that in most of our high schools,” he says, adding that the academy prepares scholars for college courses and careers.
Antwaun Smith, for example, is a Rhodes Scholar. The first in his family to attend college, he says the academy boosted his love for learning and pushed him to enroll at the University of Missouri, where he pursued degrees in religion and law. He now serves the Kansas City area as a personal injury lawyer.
Some might ask, “Why give extra support to the smart kids in the first place?” Dr. Denise Pupillo, coordinator for gifted programming at Parkway schools, contends that gifted students are an at-risk population.
“A lot of these kids struggle socially,” she says. “They overthink things, they get stressed about real-world problems, and they need to be in an environment where that is nurtured and accepted.”
The program helps a variety of academically gifted students. More than eighty-five percent of Missouri’s 114 counties are represented at the Missouri Scholars Academy every year. Denise has observed how the program instills more confidence in students when they return to school.
“I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t gone to MSA,” says Libby Wilson, who attended the academy in 2011. “It’s unlike regular society or even other camps. The acceptance was uncharacteristic of anything you’d experience. It magnifies everybody’s personality.”
In addition to helping the scholars, Smith says there’s a good return on investment because so many of those students end up staying in Missouri. Ted Tarkow, co-founder of MSA and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at MU, says he also sees young alums come to Missouri for PhD programs or to attend medical and law schools.
The Missouri Scholars Academy has survived legislative budget cuts through financial support from MU, supporting organizations, alumni donations, and a modest student fee, and it is highly regarded as one of the best programs of its kind in the nation.
“MSA is a statement to bright kids and families that the state values their talent,” Ted says. For more information on the Missouri Scholars Academy, visit moscholars.org.