Posted by: lcowie | November 4, 2009

Elon Academy bridges gap between community and university

Leo Lambert, Elon University president, has a vision for education in Alamance County that exceeds the institution in which he presides. By hosting an educational program for local high school students, Lambert hopes to bridge the gap between Elon students and county residents.

The Elon Academy is a year-round program for academically-gifted high school students in Alamance County who have a financial need or no family history of college. The program combines three intensive four-week residential experiences at Elon University in the summers prior to the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, with a variety of activities during the school year.

Burlington students can apply to be a part of Elon Academy in the fall of their freshman year of high school. They can either choose to apply on their own or apply after being nominated by one of their teachers. Applicants are selected on the criteria of need or no family history of college, as well as academic promise and displayed interest in the program.

If they are selected to be in the program, scholars will attend for three years. During the school year, they are required to attend programs one Saturday per month and then also the four-week residential program during the summer.

Bridging the gap

Elon students help bridge the gap by mentoring students participating in the program. Senior Walt Yates volunteered as a mentor following the program’s first summer of existence. A friend described how meaningful it was working with the scholars.

“I was interested immediately because of the chance to interact with high school students, something that I will be doing as a career as a high school math teacher,” Yates said. “I knew that being in the program would really be a positive experience, and I really liked how the program gave the scholars such a good opportunity to go to college.”

Because the program in the summer is a residential program, both scholars and mentors stayed on campus for whole weeks at a time. Mentors, like Yates, spent a great deal of time interacting with the scholars.

Each morning, Yates tutored three students in math for three hours, helping them in an online class. In the evening, he participated in evening curriculum along with the scholars. Evening curriculum involves classes tailored to students’ interests, such as tennis, art, drama, chorus, badminton and personal defense.

“For two weeks, I was in a dance class with a group of scholars, much to their enjoyment based on my dancing skill, or lack thereof,” Yates said.

After evening curriculum each day, the scholars have free time where they may choose to go to the gym, library or hang out at the dorms. This allowed for ample time to interact with the scholars, Yates said, such as playing basketball with a group of students, eating meals and walking to class.

“Two out of the ordinary interaction opportunities that were a part of what we did were college visits and service learning,” he said. “As mentors, we would go on college visits with certain groups of scholars, based on year in school, and take tours and go to admissions sessions with them. Also, we all participated in service learning with scholars two Saturdays out of the month-long program. We all went to service sites and volunteered our time and reflected on the experience afterwards.”

Interacting without tension

Yates describes the interaction between the mentors and scholars as one of harmony. The scholars, he says, recognize how much the mentors care about them and their futures, and because of this great foundation to build off, there was very little tension.

“They were very receptive to me, and one of my favorite things about being a part of the program was getting to know the scholars better over the course of the summer,” he said. “Each of the students has a personality of their own, and I always enjoyed being around them. There wasn’t a separation between mentors and scholars. Everyone was open to talking and including each other.”

Because there existed so many opportunities to interact, Yates was able to talk to scholars on a daily basis, whether it was talking casually in a fun setting, encouraging them in their academics and college searches or discussing the importance of service in the community.

Implications for the future

Reflecting on his four years at Elon, Yates recalls his participation in the Elon Academy as one of his best experiences. Getting to be a part of the program helped him affirm some of the values that he knew he was going to hold going into education as a career.

“Each student has their own story, and by taking the time to listen and get to know them, it makes a world of difference,” he said. “I love the fact that the Academy gives scholars so many new experiences, sometimes completely out of their comfort zone, because it gives the students the opportunity to grow and find out who they are and what they want to do.”

The Elon Academy gives scholars an opportunity they might not have otherwise had to go to college. They are given all kinds of resources and guidance to help them find the college that suits them.

According to Yates, the scholars are very appreciative of everything that the Academy does for them. At the end of the summer, the students expressed their gratitude at a closing banquet held for them, many of them saying the program changed their lives for the better through new friendships and the chance to succeed and go to college.

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