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CARBONDALE — Challenge to Excellence, a summer residential camp at Southern Illinois University for academically talented students, is wrapping up its 35th year of engaging students.

Rose Moroz, academic specialist and director of Challenge to Excellence, said the camp is open to students entering sixth grade through junior year in high school. In addition, students have to qualify academically by testing in the 90th percentile or above on an achievement test.

“If students enter in sixth grade, they can come to camp for many years,” Moroz said.

Campers Sydney Francis and Kaelyn Rubach started attending Challenge to Excellence as seventh graders. This will be their last year as campers, since they will be juniors when school starts in the fall. They both plan to apply to be counselors at Challenge to Excellence.

“We would have never met and become friends without Challenge to Excellence,” Kaelyn said.

“I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s into this kind of thing,” Sydney said.

The girls were working on paintings Wednesday afternoon in Pulliam Hall during an art class. Teacher Jody Paulson said they were working on a parody of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

However, Paulson challenged them to make their paintings comfortable or calming because some of them will be donated to Night’s Shield Children’s Shelter. The Night’s Shield is a children’s crisis shelter that provides temporary emergency care to children through their 18th birthday. Paulson called the pictures a “carody.”

Jacob Parcel was painting a sunset and swirling water.

“I kind of took the Van Goh painting and made it beach themed,” Jacob said.

Sydney combined other Van Gogh paintings for her project.

“I’m doing Van Gogh’s wheat field with “Starry Night” and one of his sunflowers,” Sydney said.

Chris Atlee used the book “1984” by George Orwell for his painting.

Across campus in the auditorium at Lesar Law School, campers were learning improvisation with instructor Tyler Bourland.

Bourland decided to teach improvisation because actors at all levels of experience could improve their skills. They worked on the three principles of improvisation.

Yes and says the actors have to believe what’s happening onstage, so the audience will also believe it.

Incongruity is opposing forces, such as super heroes and villains, meeting on stage.

Absurdity plays to the conflict or incongruity and is a true source of laughter.

“You can take the three principles and apply them to anything in theater or in life,” Bourland said.

Students also take classes in math, science and wellness. They participate in supervised social activities in the evenings. 

Student will showcase their work at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Lesar Law School.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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