July 16, 2012
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Center for Urban Education-DPS camp gives young students a preview of higher education
By Cliff Foster
Guillermo Martinez hasn’t started high school yet but is already thinking about college.
The 14-year-old is among 30 or so incoming Denver Public School freshmen participating in the 9th grade College Readiness Camp at MSU Denver. The pilot collaboration with DPS is meant to give students who are about to enter high school a preview of higher education in an inviting, culturally responsive and supportive setting.
Guillermo signed up for the camp, which runs from July 9-27, figuring that he “might need a little more experience about how high school is going to be” and to better prepare himself for college. He’s gaining insight on his heritage through poetry and mural painting, improving his computer skills and learning how to think “in a different way.”
The students will enter Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, North or West high schools in the fall, though Guillermo is leaning toward West Denver Prep. Generally, they are from lower-income households headed by parents who didn’t go to college. DPS recruited the students for the camp based, in part, on recommendations of their middle school counselors. Some have struggled in school or received a suspension along the way, but all of them are bright and have attendance records of 90 percent or higher, says Eduardo Viezca, who is coordinating the camp for DPS.
“We wanted students who have the potential but performance-wise and engagement-wise there was a disconnect,” Viezca says. “These are the type of kids who once they have that extra mentorship or that extra push they perform a lot better. We want to start making those connections between where they are now and college.”
The DPS Office of Post-Secondary Readiness contacted the University’s Center for Urban Education last spring about setting up the camp, which is funded with federal Title I money.
“Part of this is to begin to build a vision, a through line, so that these students start to look at their educational lives through high school completion and through college degree completion,” says CUE Director Esther Rodriguez. One hoped-for outcome is that the students share their experiences and tell families and friends “about how cool college is, that it’s a really great place to be,” Rodriguez says.
Nine faculty members from three departments are teaching classes to develop critical thinking, problem solving, team building and other skills. The “Big Thinkers Seminar,” courtesy of the Philosophy Department, introduces the youngsters to philosophical concepts. Math and Computer Science put together “Innovation in Computer Gaming Design,” and Chicana/Chicano Studies, through the Journey Through Our Heritage program, developed a seminar that involves cultural education, the arts and community awareness.
Mentors are drawn from MSU Denver students who intend to be teachers, and there’s plenty of guidance dispensed given the 2-to-1 mentor-to-student ratio.
The faculty members involved with the program are finding that learning is a two-way street.
“I told Esther the other day that I’m going to get more from them than they’re going to get from me,” says Professor David Sullivan, chair of the Philosophy Department. “I don’t typically interact with eighth graders…a lot of amazing things come out of their mouths.”
Rodriguez hopes the camp will not be a “one shot deal.” Although no decision has been made about next summer, Viezca will meet with the students throughout the year “to make sure their high school experience is going well and that they have all the resources they need if they happen to be struggling with anything in high school.”