The Arkansas Governor’s School kicked off its annual six-week summer residential program at Hendrix College with 400 gifted and talented students from across the state last Sunday.

Director Lyle Rupert said this is around the 38th year for AGS since starting in 1980 after the Arkansas Department of Education and the legislature decided the program was needed— state legislatures pays $890,000 each year at no cost to students — for high school juniors.

Rupert said having the state invest in its students brings a positive impact to the program because if students were required to pay, there might be less diversity, change in economic status among participants and other aspects.

"We are proud Arkansas funds this completely," he said. "I’m happy we can provide this type of program for them."

All schools in the state, Rupert said, receive information about the program and nominate 10 percent of the junior class, who in turn, apply for the opportunity. From there, the Top 400 students in the state are admitted.

Students are selected based on eight fields for which they applied, including choral music, drama, English/language arts, instrumental music, mathematics, natural science, social science and visual arts.

Rupert said the group of 400 then attend classes on the selections for which they were chosen, but also attend to classes in general conceptual development where they mature critical thinking skills, learn to formulate supportive statement, make tough decisions and discuss topics citizens usually disagree on which teaches them to learn to argue respectively.

In addition to those two areas, he said students also do personal and social development throughout the program to learn about themselves, enhance their world understanding and how they can make the world a better place.

The hope, Rupert said, is taking part in this program would make students better thinkers, stronger leaders and all-around good citizens in this world, while providing them with an enriching experience that allows them to advance academically.

"Get that extra push ahead," he said.

Rupert said AGS hears back from alumni all the time, and most have said the summer they attended was the most intellectual, academic, social and beneficial time they’ve ever taken part in.

"It makes a great social impact on them, too," he said.

This is Rupert’s 12th year to be involved with the program, and through the years, one of his favorite aspects has grown to be seeing a student come to AGS and take part in moments they haven’t had a chance to be a part of before.

"It’s a place where they really can think and have those deep conversations that they want to have," he said.

Rupert said when he witnesses those moments, he’s sure this program is a perfect investment for youth.

While the classes, lectures and speaker series takes up most of the students’ time, he said the staff does prepare fun aspects like lip-sync battles and scavenger hunts as well.

"It’s a great learning environment, not only for the students, but also for the faculty," Rupert said.