While many high school students spent last summer working a job or playing video games with friends, Cameron Rainey was busy taking his first college class.
“College was something I was thinking of already,” said the University Prep High School senior. “So I was able to experience how it felt to be on a college campus and be a college student.”
Rainey was one of 22 undergrads and graduating seniors taking part in a pilot program at Carlow University. “It was what I expected,” he said. “It just showed me that I can get better at what I do, and if I work hard at it, college is not that hard. My work ethic got way better, so now high school is getting a lot easier. It was so much fun because everyone was really engaged with the speakers and presentations.”
That’s just how creators of the college immersion program wanted students to feel. A joint effort by Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, Carlow University, Neighborhood Learning Alliance and Partner4Work, the program allowed students to earn three college credits over eight weeks while also working as a participant of the Learn and Earn summer youth employment program.
“I think it really has been the best blend of their knowledge and our knowledge,” said Stephen MacIsaac, executive director of NLA, said of the immersion program. "NLA and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation helped identify and recommend students for the program with the goal of giving students full access to everything on campus and supporting their success with tutoring.”
Five of the students were graduating seniors, 12 were juniors, and five were sophomores. How did they do?
“All 22 passed the course,” MacIsaac said. “And there are 17 kids sitting in high school now who know they can pass a college class. How aspirational must that be and what a sharpened vision it will give them in high school knowing this is already out there waiting for them and that they can do it.”
Elisa Portillo, program coordinator of the College and Career Readiness Program at Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, recommended Cameron for the class. “I’m proud of him. I think it’s great the students have this opportunity. The best way to learn whether you can do something and learn how to do something is by actually experiencing it. Cameron did really well in the class.”
“The idea was to give the kids a college experience with the same rigor of any college class,” said Dr. Howard Stern, associate professor of business administration at Carlow University and the instructor for the class. “They had to write papers, do library research, do group presentations, and they had to learn study skills while improving their writing. They were in class two days a week then also met with tutors for nine hours per week.”
Stern said many college freshman don’t pass the class (Human Resource Management), yet all 22 of these high school students did so with flying colors. “The students came in initially not really wanting to be there,” Stern recalled. “Their heads were down on the table, but we were effective in being able to engage them. … at the end of the eight weeks, the quality of their work was dramatically improved.”
Credit for that goes to the tutors students worked with for hours each week.
“This is called a summer immersion program, but even good students can have difficulty with the high school-college transition,” said Bridget Ponte, director of Carlow’s Center for Academic Achievement. “They’ve mastered high school but in college you have to think critically. They were asked to think and approach material in a completely different way. We had nine different tutors — some professional and some students. They established some very good relationships with the students.”
Kiara Thorpe knew she wanted to attend college and was so impressed with this experience that she chose Carlow to further her education.
“I had Carlow second to top because it had a really good scholarship for me and a really great art program,” said Thorpe, now a Carlow freshman. “It was really exciting! I learned how to maneuver around the school. I would have failed if I didn’t have tutors. I’m already a straight A student but I have never been more appreciative of having a tutor.”
Thorpe said the ability to explore the entire campus, use the student union, gym and cafeteria let the students immerse themselves and feel what college life would be like. Carlow freshman Usamah Abdul Ghaffar was also part of the immersion program right after graduating Brashear High School. “I didn’t really know what to expect going into the program,” he said. “I just knew I had the opportunity to take a college course in the summer and there was a scholarship attached to it. I needed some extra preparation before I started my first semester, so I thought I should take this class.” Ghaffar said the tutors and the other students both helped him improve his study skills and that Dr. Stern pushed the class for excellence. “I would definitely recommend this program,” he adds. “Dr. Stern was a great professor. He was super helpful and critiqued our papers to make them the best possible.”
Stern said at the end of those eight weeks the students were college-ready and now have three college credits plus $2,000 in tuition credit should they choose to attend Carlow. The pilot program was so successful Carlow is planning to increase the offering from one to three classes next summer. “This has probably been the single most professionally rewarding experience I’ve had,” Stern added.
“I saw these students who didn’t have confidence themselves come in and by the end of the eight weeks, they have confidence in themselves, and they feel directed, and it’s beautiful to see.”