Challenge Summer Institute at Washington Irving. Open to District & Out of District Children

“One of my favorite courses last year was definitely Crime Scene Investigation,”  says Emily Slattery, currently a 5th grader.   “It was so realistic; you actually felt like a detective trying to solve the mystery. It was really fun!”  Isn’t letting your mind go to mush part of the fun of summer?  “In the summer, you’re supposed to have fun,” says Slattery, “but learning can be fun too, when it’s creative, like at the Challenge Camp.”

Camp director Maureen Massaro agrees: “Learning can be incredibly fun; thrilling, even.   Having intriguing choices and being able to select your own goals sets the stage for that kind of enjoyment.”  As does working with authentic materials, using movement, music, role-playing, games, and participating in high energy activities with other equally enthusiastic students.  

The Challenge Summer Institute is a 2-week non-profit camp geared toward academically talented students. This year, the camp has increased the number of courses available, and is opening its doors to students in the surrounding districts. Does a student have to be “gifted” or super smart to participate?  “Well, they should check out the brochure.  If a kid reads about a course and gets excited to take it, the camp is right for that student.  They don’t have to pass a test.  It’s about getting excited about learning.”

Students can participate for a half or full day, and take either 2 or 3 courses.  Each course meets for 90 minutes per day.   Classes are small with an average of 12 students per class. Although the instructors map out the broad strokes, students work with the teachers to select their own unique learning goals, so their program is individualized for each student.

All of the instructors are certified teachers who also have course-work, experience and/or certification working with gifted and high ability students. Says Massaro, “We’re really lucky.  Our teachers are all incredibly dedicated and incredibly talented in their content areas.  They make me think of the teachers in the X-Men school.”   

Take Michael Garguilo, a 7th grade science teacher at Sleepy Hollow Middle School, and a master at capturing the attention and imagination of his students.  To keep his students excited, he incorporates strategies he developed attending Honeywell Space Camp for Educators; studying graduate coursework at the American Museum of Natural History in teaching astronomy and forensic science; and through his continued collaboration with NASA. He will be teaching Weapons that Shaped History for grades 4-5, Real Crime Fighting, and Wings of Wonder for current 6th and 7th graders.  

Dina Moricco is another treasure.   An English teacher, coordinator of the mock trial club, and WISE mentor at Sleepy Hollow High School, Moricco has developed her own curriculum for teaching public speaking and debate.  She will be teaching courtroom skills at all three levels: Fairy-Tale Trials for 2nd-3rd graders; Proving Your Case for

4th-5th graders and Legal Eagles for students completing 6th – 7th grades.  The courses are designed so that students who love debate can stick with it and continually learn new information and improve their legal and debate skills each summer. However, the earlier courses aren’t pre-requisites for the advanced classes.  

“The reason I think this camp is so successful is that the students are so actively engaged,” says Terri Huntington, a 4th grade teacher at WI and an instructor at Challenge Summer Institute. Huntington teaches Young Detectives (grades 2-3) and Crime Scene Investigation (grades 4-5).  What else is she excited about? “I’m pretty psyched about my new course this year:

Toy Company.  Students will be designing and creating marketing strategies for their own toy ideas.  It’s accessible, and it is very realistic.  Students can immerse themselves in the world of designing and marketing toys, and really feel like professionals.  Learning really can be a lot of fun.  And here, it really is.”

Washington Irving School in Tarrytown, a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School serving students in grades 3-5, is a building of Norman Rockwellian charm overlooking the Hudson.  It  also boasts rolling hills, an immaculate facility, state of the art computer technology, a stunning auditorium, and frosty air conditioning.  

Camp dates: Monday-Friday, August 1-12. Camp hours: 8:30-2:30 (or 8:30-12:15 for morning-only students)

For more information, and registration materials, go to or write  to or


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