With summer vacation in full swing, why are more than 100 Stamford middle school kids ecstatic to still be in school?
It’s because these rising eighth graders are heading to classrooms and laboratories for a special four-week college experience at UConn’s Stamford Campus.
The “University Pals” program, which began July 9, is the brainchild of Michael Ego, associate vice provost for the Stamford campus.
The new college preparation program is designed to provide first-generation college-bound students an introduction to the significance of pursuing higher education.
Although other institutions have given middle and high school students opportunities to attend college classes in various forms, Ego says, the Stamford campus University Pals (UPals) program has a number of components that go beyond the traditional approaches.
“This is not strictly an academic format,” he says.
“It is a blend of college courses, co-curricular activities, and the kids getting a chance to visit and interact with local community and business leaders directly related to possible career paths.”
Perhaps the most important part of the UPals experience is the requirement of parental participation.
Parents of each student came to a one-day orientation before classes began.
They are also expected to attend a mandatory parental meeting two weeks into the program.
Since the parents did not attend college themselves, these sessions provide them with information about how to prepare their children for high school and college.
The students’ day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
They go through a simulated daily routine of going to college, which includes attending classes in the morning, having lunch with classmates, being part of study groups, going to the library, and other scheduled activities.
Courses are taught by UConn Stamford faculty and also by community members.
Current UConn students act as mentors and group leaders for the middle-schoolers.
| From left, Kumari Willoughby, Christina Sanon, and Aaron Young, participants in the University Pals college preparation program for middle schoolers at the Stamford campus, work on a project in the biology lab.
|Photo supplied by UConn Stamford
Each Friday afternoon, the program takes the middle schoolers to visit a range of businesses in the community.
The local organizations include Stamford Hospital, the Stamford Advocate, the Marriott Courtyard hotel, Purdue Pharma, and the City of Stamford.
The program has met with enthusiastic support from the Stamford community. It is funded entirely through corporate and foundation grants, with in-kind resources from the Stamford campus.
Ego and the principals of the five local middle schools spent nearly a year preparing the curriculum and activities of this initiative.
“The application process was similar to what students have to do in applying for college,” said Ego. “They had to fill out forms, write an essay, and register for courses.”
UPals students take required courses in English, math, science, and college preparation, and can choose from a variety of elective classes, including history, communication sciences, human development and family studies, and psychology.
Also offered are two special courses connected with existing UConn academic programs: “Introduction to Shadow Puppetry”, taught by recent UConn puppet arts graduate Kate Katz, and “Selling Computer Games: Imagination at Play,” taught by staff from the edGElab, a collaborative partnership between UConn and General Electric that is housed at the Stamford campus.
The UPals program will culminate in a commencement ceremony on Aug. 3, when the students will become UPals alumni.
They will return for enrichment activities in subsequent summers, until they enter college in 2012.
Ego hopes to expand the program in the future to include other school systems in the southwest region of Connecticut.