During the planning stages, your goal is to determine the feasibility of your project. You’ll need to identify colleagues interested in collaborating in this work, draft a preliminary syllabus, sketch out a program structure, gain the support of your administration, seek guidance from experienced staff on campus, and establish the active engagement of local recruitment partners.

Knowledge for Freedom — Toolkit

I. Secure approval from your school

II. Identify individuals on campus

III. Establish recruitment partnerships

IV. Design your program and syllabus

I. Secure approval from your school
Secure approval from your school from your department and campus administration.

The work you are planning to undertake is significant and you should go into this process with the full support of your department and college. As you read through this toolkit you’ll discover that the work required for running this program goes well beyond the hours actually spent in the summer classroom. You can ease this workload greatly by having the professional and practical support of your administration. Since you are the expert in navigating the particular bureaucracy of your campus, we will only offer a few guiding questions to frame your discussions:

How will your department support you?

  • How will your department acknowledge and account for your work on this program in terms of its professional, teaching, and service requirements?
  • Can you rely on your department faculty to help? They might recruit undergraduate teaching assistants or offer guest lectures, for example.
  • Can your department’s administrative staff help you? You will likely need their help to process staff hires, reserve classrooms, and order supplies, among other things.

How will your college support you?

  • What financial resources can your college give your program? Can they donate or give you discounts on classroom space, dorm rooms, meal plans, etc.?
  • What administrative resources can your college provide? Will they help you write grants, publicize the program, fundraise among alumni?
  • Does the college have policies already in place for bringing minors to campus and can they help you navigate your compliance responsibilities?

II. Identify individuals on campus
Identify individuals on campus with experience running programs for high school students who can advise and guide you through the particular needs of your campus

No one person can run a Knowledge for Freedom program alone, and you should start by finding allies within your own college community. After securing your department’s support for the program, you will want to find individuals or organizations that have experience bringing in and working with high school students on campus. Some of these people may show real interest in supporting your vision or collaborating with you all the way through the end, while others may offer periodic advice as needed. Our current programs have found campus advisors in a wide array of places:

At Yale, Bryan Garsten and Stephanie Almeida Nevin worked with the Office of New Haven Affairs, which has connections in the community (as its name suggests) and hosts local high schoolers through a STEM summer program. At Carthage College, Ben DeSmidt and Eric Pullin received advice from their dean in the Division of Arts and Humanities, who had experience hosting summer music theater camps for high school students on campus and provided guidance. At Ursinus College, Paul Stern organized summer programming under the umbrella of the college’s larger Summer Burst program and worked with its leader as well as the Director of Residential Life and the Writing Center to facilitate the logistics of teaching and hosting students on campus. At the University of Rochester, Joan Rubin consulted with the office overseeing activities for minority and first-generation students, as well as with an Admissions staff member and a librarian in Rare Books and Special Collections. Columbia’s program began as part of the Double Discovery Center’s Upward Bound Summer Academy. The program pulled students out for the morning seminar and then returned them to the DDC in the afternoons and evenings.

Whether your partner becomes fully incorporated into your program or only helps with your development, the two most important issues to work out with them are compliance and budgeting. Most likely your college already invites minors to campus for a variety of programs including sports camps, prospective student visits, daycares, and as patients, interns, or participants in after-school programming. As a result, your school should have a “protection of minors (POM)” policy that will dictate your basic responsibilities to your students. Your first step towards making your program compliant with university policies may be to register your program with your university, probably through HR. If your school has no policy or has no office implementing such a policy, you may want to follow standards from the American Camping Association (ACA) or our stand-alone compliance guide in the appendix.

Work with your campus advisor to plan an appropriate budget and discuss the major costs of hosting students on campus, including meals, dorms, transportation, and classrooms. Columbia’s program can cost up to $4,000 per student. Half of this amount pays for the salaries of summer staff (professors, teaching assistants, and graduate coordinator), a quarter is spent on summer housing and meals, and the remainder goes towards events, supplies, and academic-year meetings. This amount can change drastically depending on available discounts from or partnerships with campus entities, so knowing what rates the college offers other programs and what it may offer yours will be a major factor in determining your budget. Because institutional knowledge can be such a critical resource for your new program we recommend reaching out to find several advisors. Get as much information as you can from across the campus so that you are not reliant on only one staff member.

III. Establish recruitment partnerships
Establish recruitment partnerships at local high schools or community organizations

Student recruitment is consistently the biggest hurdle for new programs. Convincing educators, parents, and students of the benefits of a Knowledge for Freedom program is more difficult than you may imagine. Stories from our newest programs illustrate some of the specific challenges we face:

At University of Rochester, Joan Rubin originally decided to work with East High School--a formerly failing local school with a pre-existing relationship with the University. Initially, she partnered with a teacher who designed a master’s degree program around the project, but that teacher became seriously ill. After postponing the program for a year, she then worked to recruit other teachers, and even paid several to attend an information session about the program. Only two teachers from that session ultimately followed through, although they proved to be great partners.

At Ursinus College, Paul Stern was connected with four area high schools by someone who runs college scholarships in those schools. Only two of the administrators showed any interest and only one actually followed through. At that school, it was a guidance counselor who inspired enthusiasm for the program among faculty. She recognized that her students had many opportunities for summer STEM programs at large universities but nothing in the humanities and nothing at liberal arts colleges, and was eager to fill that gap. The guidance counselor got other high school teachers on board, and they ended up sending 21 students to Ursinus for its first summer. Paul and the teachers prioritized getting as many students into the program as they could, and so several members of the first cohort did not necessarily fit their target demographic, something they would like to improve upon for next year.

Both of these institutions worked with one high school for their first year and plan to partner with multiple schools in subsequent years. Joan found an ally at her university’s admissions office who recently invited her to speak to 70 guidance counselors from high schools across the city. After her talk, one teacher approached Joan saying she already had several students in mind who would be perfect for the program. She is hopeful these teachers can help her overcome challenges from last year, including competition for students from other University programs. Paul continued to make new contacts at other area high schools and now schools are reaching out to him and showing interest in the program.

To overcome educator ambivalence look within your university for partnerships that already exist and ask your colleagues for introductions to high school principals or organization directors. Rochester found a sympathetic partner in the Admissions Office and library staff; Ursinus got connected to schools through a local scholarship program. For Columbia, student aides from Teacher’s College and staff at the Double Discovery Center have opened up some high schools that were otherwise unresponsive. From the experiences of these and other schools we recommend a robust student recruitment effort that includes the following steps:

Identify potential recruitment partners.

Teachers and students in your community may have good reasons for being skeptical of your program. Depending on your university’s footprint in the community, local schools may be wary of your plans. Educators might be getting multiple requests like yours to recruit students for various programs and they need a reason to invest their limited time helping you. Be prepared to run into the problem of competition from other programs that serve the same student population, as well as summer school and summer jobs.

If there are no existing programs on your campus that work with local high schools, you might have luck emailing and calling principals, guidance counselors, and teachers directly. You might also try reaching out to community organizations, especially those that are education-based and work with your target demographic. Persistence is key: you may have to send multiple emails and make several calls before you get any responses. Once you’ve made contact with a potential recruitment partner you’ll still have to invest time in building their confidence and interest in your program. At Carthage, for instance, Ben DeSmidt and Eric Pullin were able to double the size of their program when they invested more energy into building their relationship with their partner high school.

Win your recruitment partner’s full support.

Once you’ve identified individuals who may want to help, you’ll want to get them on board with your recruitment goals by sharing your own enthusiasm for the program and finding out what appeals to them and their students.

Ben DeSmidt and Eric Pullin found that high school counselors are most receptive when programs offer tangible benefits to students. Both Carthage and Ursinus offer college credit, and all programs have provided college letters of recommendation to students. Paul Stern’s recruitment partner was most interested in how his program offered students exposure to a liberal arts education and humanities curriculum. Other programs have worked individually with counselors to determine the specific kinds of students who would most benefit from or be interested in the program. When a counselor leaves a conversation saying “I have some students who would be perfect for this” they are often more likely to follow through with recruitment.

What will your program offer to high school students?
Consider the following:

  • College credit
  • Letter of recommendation from a college professor
  • Introduction to college level work in the humanities
  • Comfort on a college campus and familiarity with college resources
  • Increased confidence in reading, writing, and discussing challenging texts
  • Higher participation in civic life including voting, volunteering, attending public forums, and contacting representatives
  • Expanded network of mentors and teachers invested in helping the student reach their college goals

Give your recruitment partners specific ways to support your efforts.

This will be key to turning their enthusiasm into action and bringing students into your program. Current programs have mobilized their partners in many ways:

At Yale, high school teachers, librarians, and counselors are asked to formally nominate students for the program. Students may also apply directly, but most students only submit applications after receiving an email and letter congratulating them on their nomination. At Ursinus, Paul Stern’s recruitment partners not only helped him develop the application, but also read through applications and helped him select students. Last year Columbia finally made contact at one area high school after a recruitment partner sent an email introduction to the guidance counselor. Although the principal of the school had never replied to one of Jessica Lee’s emails, the guidance counselor was so enthusiastic that he bought pizza to entice interested students to attend Jessica’s presentation. He then helped students compile and submit their applications and now 10 of his students are participants.

How can your recruitment partner help you bring students into your program?

  • Can they invite you to present the program to other teachers and students?
  • Can they reach out to strong candidates and encourage those individuals to apply?
  • Will they help students compile and submit their applications?
  • Will they communicate with hesitant parents?

IV. Design your program and syllabus

The center of a Knowledge for Freedom Program is a humanities seminar. While no two programs in the consortium are the same, all programs bring low income high school seniors onto a college campus for an intensive summer seminar taught by college faculty and supported by undergraduate teaching assistants. All syllabi include transformative texts in the humanities connected by ideas or questions about the nature of government, freedom, and democracy. Each program is free to design its own syllabus. Examples of current syllabi are included in the resource bank.

Organizing your course

When designing the overall calendar and daily schedule of your program, we recommend keeping a few things in mind:

Your seminar’s goal is to provide space and resources for students to work through some of humanity’s biggest questions for themselves. Designing your syllabus and your daily seminar discussions around questions is a great way of ensuring student engagement. Knowledge for Freedom programs are designed to give students an opportunity to become actively engaged in texts and to practice the art of making informed and thoughtful comments in a classroom setting. They should be active participants in learning rather than passive recipients of knowledge.

Your instincts may lead you to pack the schedule full of formal teaching opportunities, but your students need breaks from the texts, from thinking, from sitting, and from being around each other. Columbia cut down its afternoon reading time to accommodate a forty minute rest period in the dorms after lunch. They were pleasantly surprised to learn students were still able to finish the reading even with fewer minutes because they came to their reading sessions ready to work rather than burnt out from the intense morning session and hectic lunch period.

Students need time to read, understand, and write about each of the texts. Create structured time when support is available for them to work through the texts even if that help is virtual. Structure also helps students manage procrastination. When students at Columbia turned in their daily responses to their professors at 9:30am they often stayed up the night before and into the early hours of the morning writing those papers. By changing the deadline to 9:30pm almost every student is able to turn in their papers on time, with some students getting an hour extension from their tutors as needed.

Consider how your writing assignments reflect your writing goals.

Having students turn in a nightly writing assignment before they have discussed the texts with professors or tutors will not be the best reflection of their final comprehension of the texts. It will, however, help destigmatize the writing process and increase student comfort and confidence in writing. Carthage originally tried having students write one paper for the whole summer but found it limited how much feedback students could get and did not accurately display their development over the three week course. Columbia originally had its final paper due on the last day of class, in addition to regular reading and response papers. It may have been an accurate simulation of the pressure and panic students experience during finals on campus, but did not allow students to present their best writing.

All Knowledge for Freedom Programs aim to increase college preparedness and civic engagement among their students, though they follow many different models for doing so. Look through the summer-only and full-year college preparedness models as well as the summer-only and full-year civic engagement models.

Finally, consider the evaluation of your students and your program. How will you track student progress and tell if your program is accomplishing its aims in the hard skills of reading and writing, and the soft markers of increased confidence and interest? Carthage and Columbia have employed outside assessors who studied the program and its students with Institutional Review Board (IRB) permission. If a full outside review is too much for your first year you can still conduct simple surveys of students before, during, and after the program with self-reporting data to track any improvement. This data will not only help you improve from year to year, but will also help your fundraising efforts later.

Your students will also want to know how they’re doing. If your program is giving college credit, you may need formal evaluations and grades to give to students. If not, your students may still crave a final evaluation or comments on their performance and development over the course of the program. The letter of recommendation you provide for college may not help in this case, since it should be kept confidential.

Program examples

At Columbia, students get their first assigned reading before the first day of class and are expected to read it and turn in a paragraph-long response before the first class. Starting on the first day students have a daily 2-hour seminar with their professor and 14 other students beginning at 9:30am (the group takes a short bathroom and stretch break in the middle). Columbia runs three seminars with three professors teaching concurrent syllabi. Teaching Assistants observe the seminars and lead their own hour-long tutorial sessions with a set group of 7-8 students following the seminar and a 15-minute snack break. In tutorial sessions, Academic Teaching Assistants typically split their time evenly between reading comprehension, writing skills, and public speaking. In the afternoons and evenings students have scheduled time in the libraries to read the next text and write their response papers with Residential Teaching Assistants acting as tutors. Responses are submitted online by 9:30pm. Columbia runs a four day orientation (commuting) followed by three weeks of seminar (residential, except weekends). Students write a daily one-paragraph response (sometimes with guiding prompts, sometimes not) and a final 3-page paper due two days after the program ends.

At Yale, students move onto campus the afternoon before classes begin, and after ice breakers, a welcome meeting, and an orientation, they have dinner together. In the evening, they complete their reading assignments for the first morning. Each day they have one seminar session led by one faculty member beginning at 9:15am, followed by a second seminar session led by another faculty member at 10:30. After the two seminar sessions, students break into small-group discussion sessions led by Residential Teaching Assistants (RTA). Each RTA is assigned five students. After lunch, students participate in an afternoon activity intended to link their readings on civic life with reflections on New Haven today. In the afternoons and evenings students have time for reading and writing. Each night students sign up for an appointment with any of the three RTAs, with meetings lasting about 20 minutes per student. Much like office hours, in these appointments students work one-on-one with the RTA on their writing. Each night students must write one paragraph, due by 9:30pm. Yale runs a two week residential program with students returning home on weekends. After the residential program, the students become CTW Fellows and return to campus for monthly meetings from September through May.

At Ursinus, a 90-minute seminar begins at 9:00am. The students read the day’s primary texts in seminar with the professor, and both closely analyze the text and discuss connections to contemporary issues. The professor ends the class with a major political question for students that can be debated using seminar texts (i.e. “should we have open borders or restricted migration?”). The four undergraduate tutors then lead separate small group discussions for about 45 minutes in which they try to lead students to come to a consensus on the question and then return to the large group to discuss. The tutors meet individually with students during the writing sessions on their essays. At 4:00pm the bus takes students home during the first week in which students commute to the program, or they break for other activities during the second week when the students are in residence. Students move in on the Saturday before the second week, and attend a day-long field trip to Philadelphia on Sunday. Students write one paper per week, with formal drafts due over the course of the week.

At Rochester, students arrive to campus by 8:30am and begin class by 9:00am. The first session is a 90-minute guest lecture, which often includes 15 minutes of formal lecture followed by an open discussion about the ideas and history being presented. Immediately afterwards, students spend 45 minutes reading the related text. After a 15-minute break, students have an hour-long Q&A session with the professor and then draft a one-page response to the reading. After lunch, faculty lead a 45 minute seminar discussion on the same texts. The afternoons and lunches include conversations with civic leaders and a civic project, and students leave campus by 4:30pm. In its first year, Rochester held a two week commuting program with a residential weekend beginning Friday afternoon and ending Sunday after lunch. Saturday and Sunday activities included two field trips, a writing workshop, and film screenings. Students produced a daily writing response as well as a script for a podcast which they created in the afternoons over the two weeks. Subsequent programs will be fully residential for two weeks, allowing students to complete reading assignments in the evening and freeing up more class time for short writing exercises and other activities.