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A 'Berry exciting way to learn

Posted: January 7, 2009 9:04 p.m.
Updated: January 8, 2009 4:59 a.m.

A HuckleBerry student works on a drawing Wednesday.

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HuckleBerry Center for Creative Learning in Stevenson Ranch is an experiential hands-on zone of freedom, presented for students to experiment with ideas, play with words and noodle thoughts with joy and disregard for confines.

Teacher and co-founder Stephanie Berry teaches art to a class of about 10 primary school-aged children who each think of a different way to interpret two simple items given for the project: a macaroni shell and pipe cleaners.

Students ponder their work, some sitting and some standing around U-shaped tables at the center of a rented church classroom - HuckleBerry's temporary home.

Girls giggle and chat and discuss things relating to art.

Boys stick pipe cleaners here and there, cut, bend and squeeze the bendable brown sticks in all sorts of contorted shapes.

Creativity fills the room like oxygen, and students breathe new life into their ideas with every aspiration.

Brothers Ezra Moore, 7, and Jonas Moore, 6, of Newhall are home-school students who attend HuckleBerry for enrichment classes.

The pair attended a Greek and Roman Mythology class together last semester.

"We learned about a million times ago," Jonas explained. Ancient history was a subject that got the blonde boy expounding. Somehow he managed to move the conversation from ancient civilization to his dad and what Santa brought in one long sentence.

"My dad got me a motorcycle. Yeah. A real one and he taught me everything," Jonas said.

Ezra's strawberry-blonde locks fell straight onto his forehead as he concentrated on the macaroni-shell crab he was busy inventing.

Jonas returned to his dissertation on favorite classes.

"We take music and colonial kids class, and colonial kids is the funnest one," Jonas said.

Kids at HuckleBerry are encouraged to experience learning, to become involved in interactive games, projects and critical thinking. No school books or lectures are given at HuckleBerry. Freedom of expression and thought are emphasized.

Natalie Ramirez, 8, a home-schooler from Granada Hills, looks forward to her HuckleBerry classes.

The learning center's new semester, which runs from February to June, will offer Ramirez and her fellow students many new classes.

Ramirez likes the idea of learning new things from a variety of teachers, a change from her normal home-learning environment.

Christina Spinella, 9, of Valencia, and sisters Peyton Bygum, 8, and Cassidy Bygum, 9, like getting together at the center just to be girls.

"We talk and do stuff like that," said Cassidy.

The Bygum girls will begin a weather science class next semester; Spinella is looking forward to physical education class.

Zachary Marston, 8, of Newhall spoke with confidence. He and his brother, James, 6, love school.

"I just really like to get away and be with my friends and learn," Zachary said. "And it's just so fun. Next semester I'm looking forward to my physics class."

Zachary said he wasn't sure what physics was, but he was definitely looking forward to finding out.

Elizabeth Johnson, director of community outreach and co-founder, said HuckleBerry was inspired by a group of home-schooling mothers tired of the extensive travel required to deliver their kids to a large variety of outside activities in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The product of the founding group's brainstorming produced a highly skilled collection of professionals who put their careers on hold to home school. They were happy to band together to teach their particular specialities to the school's 600 students, Johnson said.

Kids range in age from 5 to 18 years old; classes include Rowdy Politics, Presidential Campaigns & Dirty Tricks, Claymation, Spots & Dots Modern Art and Musical Shakespeare.

Teachers include a rocket scientist, an actress and a working cartoonist.

Johnson said the mission of HuckleBerry is to delight children to learn through games, fun and natural critical-thinking skills.

"We want to have fun developing neural connections," she said.

The HuckleBerry is named after Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, a young adventurous boy whose life education made him an outstanding individual.

The HuckleBerry Center for Creative Learning is a nonprofit organization.

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