Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ninth-, 10th-graders prepare early to succeed in college

First-generation students from underserved communities
immersed in college life during second year of Saint Mary’s program

WINONA, Minn. — Fifty ninth- and 10th-graders from Chicago; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Racine, Wis.; and Tucson, Ariz., are getting a head start on college success this summer, thanks to a first-of-its-kind program offered by Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

From July 16 to Aug. 6, the university’s Countdown to College academic camp is providing these students (and teachers from their home schools) with activities that will help them prepare for successful college experiences. Countdown to College offers free classes, recreation, field trips, and room and board. Countdown to College will boost students’ skills, confidence and knowledge of how to negotiate the social and academic world of college.

Now in its second year, the program is welcoming each class of students for four consecutive summers. Currently 25 ninth-graders are experiencing “college” for the first time at SMU’s Winona campus. On July 30, they’ll be joined by 25 students from last year’s inaugural C2C camp who will return to Winona for two weeks of additional study and recreation. Each year a new group of ninth-graders will be selected to participate in the Countdown to College experience, resulting in a total camp population of 100 ninth- through 12th-graders by the fourth summer.

“To our knowledge, this is the first program in the nation that offers four consecutive years of early immersion in the college experience,” said Dr. Jane Anderson, Countdown to College program director, who helped develop the program.

Why the program is needed

Currently, about one of every two economically disadvantaged youth of color in the U.S. does not graduate from high school. Only a small percentage of Latinos and African Americans have college degrees. This is the reality even as demand is rising for better-educated workers who can function in today’s technologically complex global economy.

“Countdown to College is designed to ensure college success for first-generation students whose parents did not have the opportunity to go to college,” said Dr. Anderson. “First-generation students, many of them students of color from underserved schools and communities, are at an economic and educational disadvantage when it comes to reaching and finishing college. These are all factors that are known to significantly limit their ability to attend and succeed in college.”

Countdown to College highlights

Countdown to College seeks to break down the barriers to higher education by exposing youth directly to the college experience for two weeks each summer for four straight years. The first summer, each day is filled with college orientation and classes in reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, math and leadership. Their schedules also include supervised study halls, academic contests, sports, recreation, and field trips. Other college preparation subjects, such as science, are added in subsequent years.

One of the most distinctive aspects of the program is that it includes a teacher or staff representative from each of the participating students’ schools. They co-teach the classes alongside Saint Mary’s instructors. This helps prepare the university instructors to work with an increasingly diverse population of college students. In turn, the visiting teachers learn how to set their students up for success in college and how to help create a community of support around the students.

The participants in Countdown to College attend schools in the Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Racine, Chicago and Tucson metropolitan areas. Preference is given to graduates of Saint Mary’s middle school partners in the NativityMiguel Network of Jesuit and Christian Brothers’ schools, which are located in those cities.

Countdown to College is funded for 2010-2013 by a generous donation from Jack and Mary Ann Remick of Rochester, Minn., who are long-time supporters of Saint Mary’s University. Mary Ann Remick is also the chairwoman of Saint Mary’s First-Generation Advisory Board and a member of the Saint Mary’s Board of Trustees.

Part of the broader ‘First-Generation Initiative’

Countdown to College is the foundation segment of Saint Mary’s broader First-Generation Initiative to improve college access and success.

"Countdown to College and our First-Generation Initiative reflect Saint Mary’s mission to make higher education accessible to learners, regardless of their financial situations,” said Brother William Mann, president of Saint Mary’s University.

Countdown to College graduates will receive preferential consideration to participate in Saint Mary’s First-Generation Initiative program, which provides college scholarships, and educational support to first-generation students who demonstrate financial need as well as leadership and academic potential. In 2010-11, 13 students received full to partial scholarships through the First-Generation Initiative. These scholarships provide financial support for tuition, room and board, books, computer, spending money, and one semester of study abroad.

“Students participating in Countdown to College may potentially become part of Saint Mary’s First-Generation Initiative scholarship program, which would be a seamless continuation of support for these students,” said Brother Edmund Siderewicz, assistant to the president for First-Generation and Lasallian Initiatives. “Our goal is to provide full scholarships and opportunities for our First-Generation students – study abroad, internships, life to the fullest – because we know these students have the potential to accomplish great things.”