Every summer, the Olentangy River turns into a living classroom for gifted students from all over central Ohio.

Every summer, the Olentangy River turns into a living classroom for gifted students from all over central Ohio.

Tom Bogard, who teaches at Olentangy's Berkshire Middle School, last Thursday, June 16, led a group of nine students to the river off Chapman Road in Liberty Township. The science teacher has been taking students to the river as part of the Ohio Wesleyan University Junior League Camp for 19 years.

The camp -- conducted annually at OWU -- gives hundreds of gifted middle school students from schools throughout central Ohio a chance to select from dozens of experiential classes.

Bogard's class, River Rats, gives students a chance to trek through the muck and get their hands on river rocks and clay.

Bogard said his class "excites a passion" within students about the natural world.

"Water is such an important part of our lives and often overlooked," he said. "It's important to learn about water, streams, rivers (and) the ecology."

Before setting off through the river, Bogard addressed his students on the importance of river safety. Still, he said students should not always expect to take the path of least resistance during the class.

"If there's an easy way or a hard way, we'll always take the hard way," he said.

Students repeated that mantra as they ducked under or climbed over tree trunks and logs in the river.

Bogard said he sees it as important to get students out of the classroom and up close with the subject they're studying. He said learning about erosion, flooding and river wildlife is just more fun that way.

Maura Branum, 12, of Grandview Heights said her favorite part of the class was when she and her fellow students stopped to paint their faces with clay from the river.

"I really just like being out in nature and walking around in the river," she said.

Topics of other OWjL Camp classes range from drawing and drama to baking and robotics. Bogard said students rank the classes before camp starts, then receive their assignments.

Rachel White, 12, of Delaware said she hoped to get a new experience out of the River Rats class.

"I'm not a fan of getting dirty, so I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone."

Rachel said the class was "a lot of fun," but also educational.

For more information on OWjL Camp, visit tinyurl.com/owurats.