For those walking into a session of Desi Raulston’s Jedi Academy in the courtyard of Copper View Elementary School it might appear to be little more than little kids swinging around toy lightsabers. But for Raulston, the school's principal, and her students, it’s much more.
“A lot of it is good citizenship, you know leaders, building good leadership and also just being a good person," Raulston said.
Raulston tries to instill responsibility and kindness into all the students.
Raulston started the program last year as a way for her to better connect with her students and build positive relationships. The one-hour academy takes place intermittently throughout the school year.
Raulston has been a Star Wars fan ever since she saw “Star Wars” in theaters in 1977 when she was in eighth grade. It’s something that has given her and her students a common ground.
But she isn’t just using Star Wars as a way to connect with students and teach them about being good people, she’s also using the franchise as a way to teach her students about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Last year, Raulston helped students make snow globes based on the planet Hoth from “The Empire Strikes Back” and they learned some physics.
“We made an Ewok catapult and they had to work together, follow all the directions and put it together and learn about force, resistance,” Raulston said.
In total, Raulston estimates she has spent $400 of her own money on buying items for the Jedi Academy. She has also received donations from parents to purchase project materials. The donations also went toward foam lightsabers for each of the participating students. They are kept in Raulston’s office and brought out during the Jedi Academy sessions.
At the end of the school year, Raulston holds a “celebration” where Jedi Academy students show-off their projects and new Jedi skills.
“They can demonstrate some of their Jedi moves and how far they’ve come,” Raulston said.
The students also receive a certificate from Raulston, along with a plastic lightsaber, which they get to take home at the end of the celebration.
Raulston said 20 to 25 students participated last year. The students range from kindergarten to fifth grade, encompassing all the grade levels at Copper View. The students are recommended by teachers or parents who think a student would benefit from the program.
“We do some kind of, basically, Jedi moves, together… learn some directions, focus, pay attention and have fun, so we do that together because it's all levels. I have all kinds of students, different grade levels, different abilities,” Raulston said. "It’s just really fun to help them connect."
One of those students is 8-year-old Emily Beagley, who joined the academy when she was in the second grade and who is now in her second academy year.
“I like that you can make new friends doing this program and that you are going to do effort with people that you don’t know,” she said. “So you can begin making new stuff together and meeting new people.”
Some students, like fourth grader Isabel Lehr, 9, make friends with students from higher grade levels.
“I made a few new friends I like talking to, some friends from fifth grade, new ones… some of them are from fourth grade, at the time I was in third grade so I just got to have a new experience with different types of people,” Lehr said.
Some of the students gather with Raulston at lunch and some get together wit her for an hour after school. Raulston is the only one involved in working with the students in the Jedi Academy so she has to split them up between the lunch and after school sessions just so she can keep an eye on everyone involved.
Raulston has recently sought help from other faculty at Copper View for assistance in running the program. She’s even enlisted the aid of some returning students as mentors for newer students.
This year Raulston hopes to have her students create Ewok drums and design their own Jedi Flags. She plans to start the first Jedi Academy session of the year on Oct. 15.