TH!NK GT Camp Inspires Creativity

The camp for students assessed as Gifted and Talented is held each summer at Austin Elementary School and is a successor to Threshold, which previously was held at Hardin-Simmons University. The camp is directed by Mary Christopher. For more information, go to her website, or to the ThinkGTCamp page on Facebook.


With names like Bubble-ology, Secret Chemistry Detectives, and The World of Insects (10 quintillion on our planet!), it’s a no-brainer that this summer camp for Gifted and Talented students is designed for fun and learning.

Even the creative multi-colored logo–TH!NK GT Camp–screams fun and learning. It’s obvious just walking through the classes, divided by school classifications from kindergarten through ninth grade, that there is plenty of both going on.

“What is it called when we separate colors like this?” Cassie Irwin asked a class filled with enthusiastic kindergarten and first-grade students.  

“Chromatography!” they yelled in unison, tiny hands shooting into the air. 

The kids didn’t just memorize that word. With Irwin’s guidance, they created an experiment to see the principle in action. Irwin snaked paper towels in and out of cups filled with liquids so the kids could see the colors separating for themselves.

“It looks like a rainbow,” is the way one little girl described the colorful section of paper towels. 

Cassie Irwin experiments with chromatography in her TH!NK GT Camp class. Photo by Loretta Fulton

For the second consecutive year, TH!NK GT Camp was held at Austin Elementary School. Classes met July 11-15 in three-hour or seven-hour sessions, depending on grade level. TH!NK GT Camp was the brainchild of Mary Christopher, who directed a similar camp called Threshold when she taught in the Education Department at Hardin-Simmons University. 

“I was called to teaching,” she said.

Today, Christopher focuses more on empowering other teachers than on classroom teaching. She has an educational consulting firm, Christopher Gifted Leadership (CGL), and is an adjunct professor in the online Doctorate in Leadership Program at Abilene Christian University. Her husband, Phil Christopher, retired in September 2021 as pastor of First Baptist Church. 

The TH!NK GT Camp brought 220 students together for a week of creativity under the leadership of 12 teachers–all of them gifted and talented themselves.

“We picked some really stellar teachers,” Christopher said.

The focus is on critical thinking and problem solving, with teachers designing their own classroom instruction based on the needs of students in Gifted and Talented programs.

Janet White, left, and Mary Christopher in the library at Austin Elementary School, where the TH!NK GT Camp was held July 11-15. Photo by Loretta Fulton

Because the students have been assessed as Gifted and Talented, their developmental needs differ from traditional students. For example, most learning experiences come easy to GT students, so they may be tempted to run from a challenge, said Dawn Bailey, one of the teachers for students in grades 6-9. A class titled “The Will to Win” used a variety of games like chess to instill a winning attitude and to not fear failure.

“Failure is a part of the learning process,” Bailey said.

Children in grades K-9 have fun with learning at the TH!NK GT Camp, held July 11-15. In the left photo, Tabby Nutt blows a huge bubble as part of class experiment. In the middle photo, teacher Dawn Bailey looks on as Anselah Buchanan, left, and Nicholas Steele learn critical thinking by playing chess. In the photo at right, children raise their notebooks, demonstrating they know the answer to a question posed by their teacher, Cassie Irwin. Photos by Loretta Fulton

Developing a “will to win” doesn’t mean a total focus on individual success. Team success and recognizing the talents in others also are emphasized in the classes, with team projects like building a tower. 

“Empathy and advocacy are two pieces that are really important,” Bailey said.

TH!NK GT Camp has ended for this year but is scheduled to be held in summer 2023. For details, go to

Loretta Fulton is editor of Spirit of Abilene 

One comment

  • Mary, I am so glad you were able to re-create your program in this format. Best wishes to you and your students.


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