For 25 years, North Central College’s Junior/Senior Scholars Pipeline to College program has provided a summer camp experience with hours of high-quality learning experiences to help school-aged students in under-resourced neighborhoods advance in their achievement levels.
Summer camp was the first initiative of the Junior/Senior Scholar program—founded and coordinated by Janis Fitzsimmons and North Central College. Fitzsimmons is executive director of the College’s Urban Education Laboratory, Junior/Senior Scholars coordinator and director of the Associated Colleges of Illinois Center for Success in High-Need Schools.
The scholars program reaches out to K-12 students attending schools in the high-need, high-risk communities of east Aurora and North Lawndale in Chicago with the goal of increasing the number who graduate from high school, attend college and earn a four-year degree.
A recent report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research noted that more than 40 percent of all students who enroll as freshmen in Chicago public high schools drop out before their senior year and only 9 percent earn a college degree.
“This lack of educational achievement for high school students in Illinois has dramatic implications for the future,” Fitzsimmons says. “Without proactive intervention, first generation, low-income and minority youth in Illinois will struggle to achieve full participation as productive citizens. If we wait until high school to engage students and prepare them for college, we have waited too long.”
The Junior/Senior Scholars summer camp, as well as other scholar initiatives, is one such “intervention” with proven success.
Of the seniors in the scholars program who graduated in spring 2012, says Fitzsimmons, 100 percent were accepted at two or more colleges this fall. That percentage is true of nearly every graduating class, which number approximately 15 students. They have enrolled in some 49 different colleges and universities, including Michigan State, Notre Dame, Yale and Purdue universities, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Iowa and North Central College.
Since its inception, the scholars program has served more than 4,300 elementary, middle and high school students in a year-round program, providing tutoring and mentoring, after-school and evening study groups, field trips, weekend retreats, college preparation classes, work internships and the four-week academic summer camp. “High school principals report that our senior scholars are among their very best scoring at ACT levels with an average of 23.3 and that far outscores their colleagues’ average scores of 15.5 to 17.5,” Fitzsimmons says. “And these students boast a GPA of 3.2 while their peers average 2.5.”
The summer camp experience gives each child approximately 100 more hours of instruction and another 100 hours of structured activity they would not otherwise receive in under-resourced neighborhoods. According to tests given to students at grade levels 1-8, each student who attended the summer camp demonstrated one year’s growth in reading and math.
At this summer’s camp, some 200 students from the James Weldon Johnson Elementary School in Chicago and Oak Park Elementary School in Aurora traveled daily by bus to North Central College’s campus to participate. They learned about critical discoveries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through reading, writing, mathematics, geography and current events. Students also engaged in Battle of the Books and Forensics for Kids competitions, a Math Olympics, science fair and visit from the Mad Scientist (photo, left), a literary magazine and participated in recreational games and fitness, swimming, music and art. They were taught by experienced North Central College student teachers majoring in education.
Among the sponsors of the Junior/Senior Scholars program are Anderson’s Bookshops, Grace Bersted Foundation, Chartwells, Fifth Third Bank, Donald P. and Byrd M. Kelly Foundation, PNC, Target and USA Funds.
North Central College offers an undergraduate degree in elementary education, with opportunities to earn minors in reading, English language learning and health education. The secondary education minor is designed to be paired with majors in art, biology, chemistry, English, French, German, mathematics, music, physical education, physics, social science/history or Spanish. Master of arts in education is among seven graduate degrees offered at North Central College.