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A little more learning

TALENT — Max Duffie used his iPod to control a Lego robot that had been programmed by Dane Johnson and built by Rylan Gimenez during a robotics class Wednesday at Talent Middle School.

Robotics is one of three subjects in a new after-school enrichment program that helps fill gaps in the Phoenix-Talent School District's educational offerings.

There are 30 kids in robotics, 25 in guitar and 11 in Spanish.

Duffie and Johnson have spent a lot of time building Lego projects together. Max has studied robotics at ScienceWorks Hands-in Museum and Southern Oregon University in Ashland. The trio, all seventh-graders, hope to compete in robotics competitions run by the Southern Oregon Educational Service District.

"A lot of the parents were looking for extra enrichment for middle-school kids," said Assistant Principal Patrick Couture, who put the program together.

The school offers a band program, but no guitar instruction, Couture explained. All students at Talent Elementary participate in bilingual classrooms, but the next chance in the district for Spanish instruction comes in high school.

Three years ago, the school instituted an after-school academic program to help students who needed some extra attention. That program has attracted up to 60 participants a day, said Couture. But some of those students were primarily there to spend more time at the school, pointing to a need for more offerings, he said.

Spanish teacher Juanita Ephraim had two groups of students picking out words on pieces of paper and putting them together as questions. Most of the students are new to Spanish. Ephraim is the school's English language development instructor.

"I know a tiny bit, like maybe seven words," said sixth-grader Noah Hunter. "I know the colors."

"They are picking it up pretty fast," said Ephraim. "I just think they like it."

Guitar instructor Sage Meadows led students in playing "Rockin' Robin," teaching them to go back and forth from A to D chords to understand the relationship.

Working on strumming came next with the song "Iko, Iko." Meadows sang, "I like baked potatoes," during the song, although students wanted her to sing, "I like french fries."

Seventh-grader Olivia Liden took the class because both her parents play guitar.

"When I watch them play, it looks really fun," said Liden.

While the academic program is free, enrichment classes cost $35 per term. Scholarships are available to assist with the cost. Guitar students pay $20 if they rent a school instrument. New rounds will start after Christmas and spring breaks.

Classes are held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Students can get home on a late bus route already in place for the academic-assistance program.

Couture has applied for a grant from KOBI-TV's Youth Education Success program, which funds after-school programs. Help is also being sought for startup costs from the Talent Middle School Boosters.

Lego robotics equipment cost $4,500. Guitar Center offered the school instruments at just a little more than cost, said Couture. Fees cover instructor salaries and are designed to cover the startup costs over several years if there is no outside assistance.

In addition to education, students get snacks under a federal program.

Greater demand could lead to additional sections of the current classes in the future, said Couture. Students would also like a drama and theater class, which are not available in the regular curriculum.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Celeste Mackinnon, 11, participates in a guitar class Wednesday during the after-school enrichment program at Talent Middle School. - Jamie Lusch