New program gives high schoolers a taste of college life

New program gives high schoolers a taste of college life

In July, the Bonner Summer Fellows Program brought 26 high school students to campus for a two-week residential experience during which the students took a college-level course and performed community service in the Trenton area.

Program participants spent part of each day in Professor Diane C. Bates’ Political and Historical Sociology class, for which they earned college credit, and part of the day working at one of four local nonprofits: the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen; the Academic Sports Academy, the Trenton after-school program started by Greg Grant ’89; Habitat for Humanity; and El Centro de Recursos Para Familias, an ESL tutoring center for Spanish-speaking immigrants. In the evenings, students came together as a group to discuss social issues such as poverty, joblessness, housing, education, environmental justice, and hunger in the U.S., and to watch pertinent films.

As part of the program, TCNJ admissions counselors presented a workshop in which students learned how to best highlight their community service experience on their college applications. There were also group-building and recreational activities throughout the two weeks.

“There are plenty of college-based summer programs out there. What I think makes ours unique is the linkage between a summer academic course and something that’s experiential,” said William Behre, assistant vice president for college advancement and interim vice provost for strategic initiatives and operations. While participants took part in a “high-quality academic and service experience,” the program also benefitted the College by leveraging facilities and staff during the summer months, he said.

The program was coordinated by TCNJ’s Bonner Center for Community Engagement. The Bonner formula—college students working together to fulfill a community-service mission—has made TCNJ’s program one of the most successful “domestic Peace Corps” programs in the country. Because of the nature of the Summer Fellows Program, the College sought participants whose applications displayed a commitment to giving back to the community. “The service was the nucleus around which everything else was built,” said Behre. “The service really did come first.”

Still, Bates was impressed with what the students brought to her classroom. The associate professor and department chair of sociology and anthropology said, “Every single one of [the students] demonstrated both a hunger to learn and a capacity to integrate new ideas and new information in innovative and thoughtful ways. In general, I could not be more pleased with the quality of the in-class discussions or the papers that the fellows submitted.”

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