Tag Archives: Jessica Houben

Yunasa West 2014

By Jessica Houben

IEA’s pioneering Yunasa summer camps unite highly able youngsters with experts in the social and emotional development of gifted children. Campers explore and grow the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their lives.

Yunasa West 2014

In June, 39 campers from across the country came together for Yunasa West at Camp Shady Brook in Deckers, Colorado, for a week of intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical growth.

The week started off by introducing this year’s IEA program theme: The Common Good. As we talked about The Common Good, campers shared what the theme meant to them and how they thought it would be relevant to their camp experience. They described the Common Good as acting unselfishly, doing things for other people rather than yourself, and behaving in a way that promotes the health of the group, even if one’s own best interest is at stake. We proceeded to establish our rules as a group to prepare for the week as part of a community. Each camper exemplified The Common Good in their actions towards others at camp, respecting one another and making efforts to ascertain that everyone felt accepted.

See more highlights from Yunasa West 2014!

Yunasa 2013!

By Jessica Houben

IEA’s pioneering Yunasa summer camps unite highly able youngsters with experts in the social and emotional development of gifted children. Campers explore and grow the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their lives.

“Know Thyself” was at the core of all of IEA’s programs this year, and particularly for Yunasa, as this theme tied into each activity throughout the week. Yunasa is the Lakota word for “balance”, and finding balance within as a means of gaining self-knowledge is the focus of camp. From July 21-28 at Camp Copneconic in Fenton, Michigan, campers explored themselves more deeply and learned integration strategies for the five domains of self: social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual. For many returning campers, Yunasa is a place where they rejoin their family each year, building their existing connections and extending themselves to make new ones. What was most unique about camp this year was the number of new campers who were accepted into the Yunasa family with open arms.

Call in the Directions

Call in the Directions

Check out more highlights from camp!

Yunasa West 2013!

IEA’s pioneering Yunasa and Yunasa West summer camps unite highly able youngsters with experts in the social and emotional development of gifted children. Campers explore and grow the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their lives. 2013 was the 2nd year for Yunasa West, which took place June 9-16 at YMCA Camp Shady Brook in Sedalia, Colorado.

2013 Yunasa West campers and staff

2013 Yunasa West campers and staff

Twenty-four kids from across the country joined us for Yunasa West 2013. This was the second year of Yunasa West, and it proved to be yet another memorable and magical year!

Campers explored all five aspects of Self – intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual – and learned how to work towards achieving balance across these five areas of their lives.

Every day contained at least one activity to help campers embrace each of the five aspects of Self. In just one day, a camper could go rock climbing (physical), talk with all of the other campers during activities and at meals (social), learn about the different aspects of emotional intelligence in a special workshop (emotional and intellectual), and do yoga (spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual).

See what the campers did at Yunasa West!

7 Questions with Jessica Houben


Jessica Houben is a Program Coordinator with IEA. She will be working most closely with the Yunasa camps this program season.

1. What are you most passionate about in working with the gifted community?

I am most passionate about working with gifted youth in a non-traditional educational setting because I get to see kids grow on a personal level as well as intellectually. Getting to know each individual student throughout the application process and then seeing them in person going through an IEA program is really rewarding because these kids are multi-faceted and complex in the most amazing ways. In a school setting, you don’t always get to see these kids for who they are, but at IEA, we get to see them blossom as individuals. It is such a pleasure to hear happy parents when they realize that they’ve finally found programs that will challenge their child.

2. What is the most interesting thing you have learned about gifted kids since you started at IEA?

I guess I always thought about gifted kids being really intelligent, which they are. However, one interesting thing I have learned is that they can also be very emotionally intense. They do not take injustices lightly, they are passionate about the world’s problems, and they can be overly worried about friends or loved ones. These kids care a lot about their environment, and if given the proper tools, can really make a difference as leaders of the next generation.

3. What are you looking forward to about coordinating Yunasa this year?

I have coordinated Academy classes as well as our Apprenticeship Program for the past two program seasons and had the opportunity to attend and be in a supportive role at Yunasa in 2011. I love that Academy and Apprenticeship are academic programs that provide challenging intellectual content to gifted learners that they may not otherwise have access to, but I’m really excited to facilitate personal and intellectual growth within a camp environment. I really enjoy camping, the outdoors, and carrying on traditions. I’m hopeful that I can continue the Yunasa tradition and that even more students are able to benefit from the camp.

4. What’s your favorite activity from an IEA program?

It is really hard to choose because there are so many things that I love that we do in each program! I like that we do Olympics at Apprenticeship, because the Apprentices support and encourage their team members and compete in a positive way. I also enjoy Psychosynthesis at Yunasa because it allows campers the opportunity to focus and relax. However, I think my favorite activity from an IEA program is launching rockets with our Academy students. During spring, I assisted in the Rocket to Calculus class and had the chance to build and launch a rocket with students, which was so much fun because I got to see the students’ faces light up as the math and science they learned came to life!

5. What is your educational philosophy?

I believe that education should be meaningful, holistic, and child-centered. In today’s society, a lot of emphasis is placed on test scores and results rather than focusing on the process of learning. Children need to learn by exploring their world, solving problems that are relevant to them, and having positive experiences in content areas that are interesting. Of course, everyone needs to learn the basics, but that is just one part of education. The other part is finding out what each child enjoys and wants to learn more about and then providing the opportunities to learn about that topic in a way that keeps them interested in becoming lifelong learners.

6. What’s your favorite snack food?

My favorite snack food is chocolate. Whenever I’m feeling tired, or stressed, or I just need something a little sweet, chocolate is the answer. It can be in any form; I don’t discriminate.

7. What’s one activity you enjoy doing in your free time?

I really enjoy doing yoga in my free time. I have practiced yoga on and off for about 9 years, taking different classes in college, at yoga studios, at the gym, or with a video in my living room. It’s an activity that uses my mind and body, and every time I do it I feel like I’m doing a good thing for myself.

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Why We Do What We Do: Portfolio-Based Applications

By Jessica Houben

IEA’s programs – Academy, Apprenticeship, the Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship, Yunasa, and Yunasa West – are geared toward gifted children ages 7-18, who think and learn differently from the norm. Every year we receive numerous applications for each program, and every applicant is truly amazing and unique. Identifying students who will most benefit from our programs and services is critical to our success. In order to do this, we need to find out who they are, what they know, and what interests them.

Because each gifted child has so many interests and dimensions, IEA feels that it is important to gather a variety of information to assist our selection committees in matching applicants with the most appropriate programs and services. These decisions are very difficult. We have to determine the students for whom the program will best fit their intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. Even when applicants are not chosen or placed, they are still some of the best! We have to look at all aspects of the applicant, as grades and test scores do not tell the whole story. This is why each application that comes to us is evaluated by several members of our staff, why we conduct interviews, and why we use a portfolio-based application.

Our portfolio-based applications are designed to provide each student with the opportunity to highlight their individual talents, skills, creativity, and problem solving abilities. These are not things we could determine from a test score alone.

As part of our applications, we ask for several things:

  • Application form (we need everyone’s general information)
  • Short-answer questions
  • Essay questions
  • Test scores
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Parent statements
  • Samples of student work

Short-answer questions show us what the students are passionate about, what their interests are, and what their daily life is like outside of all of the academics in which they are involved.

Essay questions highlight problem solving skills and help us to understand how students think about things, what their perspective is on the world, and how they see themselves as part of their families, communities, and society as a whole.

Test scores give us a measure of the students’ strengths, so that we can place them in a situation that is the best fit for their educational needs. We like to set our participants up for success!

Transcripts tell us the applicants’ academic stories, what their experiences have been, and what they are currently doing to meet their goals.

Letters of recommendation give us a sense of the applicants’ attitude, values, and unique characteristics that other aspects of the application are unable to provide. These letters are usually from people who have worked with the student and know them well.

Parent statements provide us with even more information about a student’s personal strengths and weaknesses, give insight into the applicant’s character, and highlight the reasons why he or she would be a good fit for our program. A parent’s voice is often an invaluable resource for assessing who an applicant is and what he or she has to offer.

Samples of student work demonstrate what the students have already told us through the other pieces of the application. For the Apprenticeship Program in particular, we use the work samples to gauge their past work experiences. For all programs, the work samples often bring an applicant’s passions to life.

We know that students are more than just a list of their academic accomplishments, that there is a person behind the application. This is why it is necessary to have several determining factors when making our decisions, so that we know as much about an individual as possible. We also do our best to create an application that is of interest to the applicant, providing an important opportunity for self-reflection, critical thinking, and discovery. Our hope is that the application and evaluation process helps us to have a positive impact on the lives our programs touch!

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Imagine the Impact of Gifted Programs

By Jessica Houben

Emily was six years old and a first grader in elementary school. Most of her classmates were still learning to read. Emily had read all of the Harry Potter books before she began first grade. Every time she would sit through reading lessons, she would skip ahead and finish the story before her classmates reached the second page. The teacher would ask the class what they thought would happen next, and Emily had all of the answers. Her teacher came to her desk and looked at her disapprovingly, telling her that she was not to read ahead. This was not the first or last time Emily felt like she did something wrong, just because she was more advanced.

Emily’s mother looked for outside opportunities to challenge her daughter. She saw a flier for enrichment classes offered in her neighborhood through IEA’s Academy. When Emily joined the Academy, she made friends quickly with the other children. They were just like her! She was able to talk to these children about all of the stories she read, because they had read them, too! Her Mythometry class taught her to read stories that challenged her to analyze and think critically. She began reading college level material, and she was even encouraged to write her own stories!

IMAGINE THE IMPACT if Emily’s teacher had allowed her to be herself and read ahead in class. Imagine if students were told to move as fast as they’d like through school, instead of moving at a pace where they become bored and disengaged and are told to slow down for the sake of the group. For most Academy students, their enrichment classes are where they can be themselves, learn at their own pace, and be challenged to rise to their greatest potential. Imagine if gifted students were able to get experiences like this in school, where they learned with other advanced students and were challenged on a daily basis. Imagine if programs like this were available to all gifted students, nationwide, both in and out of school. Imagine what those children would achieve.

What experiences have your gifted kids had in school? Let us know in the comment section below!

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