For high school students in the Pre-College Academy (PCA), going to summer school isn’t about making up for last year’s mistakes. Instead, these rising sophomores and juniors come to UC Berkeley to get a jump on next year’s math and writing classes.
Each of the up to 250 students takes a math course - Advanced Algebra, Geometry or Calculus. Instructors use a project-based approach that gets students excited about the coursework they will study at school the next year.
“This gives them a preview of some of the highlights, the big buckets of information that they’ll see once they enter advanced algebra, geometry, or calculus in the fall,” explained Nikko Roxas, assistant director of Early Academic Outreach Programs (EAOP) at the Center for Educational Partnerships. “We want to prepare them well, and we want them to make the mistakes here where we can support them.”
They also take a writing course. “We want to make sure they have writing skills, that they’re able to closely analyze text, and think critically about what they’re learning,” Nikko explained. “The topics are culturally and life relevant. It’s not teaching in a vacuum. It’s teaching to the context of our generation, of our times right now.”
The instructors are highly qualified and share their knowledge and passion for writing with their students. “A lot of our instructors are college lecturers, teach at community college, high school teachers, or Ph.D. students.” Each class also has a teaching assistant who is a college student or recent college graduate.
This summer the classes being offered included Free Me Fast: The ‘Potentially’ Liberating Linguistics of Rap, In Search of the Self Through a Critical Analytical Lens, Decolonizing the Classroom: Radical Healing and Empowering Education, Writing from the Margins: Black Feminist Theory and Literature from Bell Hooks to Beyoncé, and Language, Culture, and Power: Mixtape of an Activist.
One day in the Mixtape course, instructor Landon Smith, a tenure-track faculty member at Chabot College, gave students six minutes to warm up by writing about what they think is the most challenging part of the writing process and what areas they’re most interested in improving as a communicator. Next, they had five minutes to share their writings with classmates. After that, in groups of three, they spent time at writing stations that focused on different parts of the writing process including how to shape your piece, topic sentences, analysis, and evidence, how to reel in the reader, quote integration, and the ‘so what’ – how to engage your audience.
Pre-College Academy students don’t get any credit for the six-week academic enrichment program. Nevertheless, many of them like it so much they come back the following year. “One of our families has three children, each one of them was in a different part of our program. One was in PCA - the youngest one. The middle one was in Summer Sessions, and then the oldest one was a teaching assistant in PCA.” Their parents also participated, taking part in parent panels and sharing their experience of being parents of EAOP students.
The EAOP programs - PCA, Summer Sessions, and SAT Academy - are having a significant impact on the individual students who take part and also the community colleges and four-year universities they go on to attend. “We're seeing an increase in the numbers applying to college, how many four-year applications they submit, how many complete the FAFSA [federal student loan application] or California Dream Application, as well as where they end up going to college.”
On Closing Ceremony day, Dwinelle and Wheeler Halls filled with students and their families who came with their arms full of flowers to celebrate their children’s achievements. The students of each class participated in presentations. Writer, educator and visual artist shah noor hussein’s course on Black Feminist Theory & Literature put together a multimedia anthology called “Feminique” From Our Roots to Our Revolution! In groups of twos and threes, they presented their work to a standing-room-only crowd filled with parents, siblings, friends, and classmates.
“It's one of my favorite nights,” Nikko said with a smile. “It's like half graduation and half back to school. It makes me happy that they're celebrating their students in that way.”