You are the expert on how your program is going to run at this point, but there are some special items you probably want to fit into the summer schedule.

Knowledge for Freedom — Toolkit







High school students need more than a thick book of philosophy and a vibrant discussion to get through the day. Below are some lessons from programs about catering to your students’ other needs:


Paul Stern at Ursinus College is only partially joking when he says good snacks will guarantee your program’s success (he recommends salty chips and gummy fruit snacks). Order bulk snacks in advance and make sure you have breaks throughout the day to provide them. If your students are commuting to campus, providing breakfast will not only boost student attention but can also reduce tardiness to class. At Yale and Carthage the students eat together in the dining hall, and Ben and Eric consider those meals at Carthage “community time.” Professors and tutors eat with the students and learn about their students’ non-academic interests during those meals.


You’ll work with your office of public safety to ensure the physical safety of your students, but how will you ensure that students feel secure participating fully in the program? Consider how you will articulate to students that it will be OK to mess up, to ask dumb questions, or to share a deeply unpopular point of view. At Columbia, students begin orientation by writing the expectations they have for themselves, their classmates, their teachers, and their dormmates on Post-Its. They stick their Post-Its up around the classroom and then read each others’ expectations, grouping similar ones together. At the end of orientation they reflect on this exercise to collectively draft a class contract. Through contract-writing, the students and their TAs articulate community values that encourage students to ask questions, listen to each other, and challenge themselves.


Even if all of your students come from the same high school, they may not know each other at all. Spending time before or during the program to build connections between students and tutors is incredibly beneficial. While structured icebreakers are obviously useful, you might need to get creative structuring community time into your tight schedule. We recommend making the most of down time and transitions between scheduled activities. Use your undergraduates to play transitional games and activities while walking between meals, on bus rides, eating snacks, or throughout the day.


Regardless of your program’s size, students can feel overwhelmed by the quick pace of the daily schedule or classroom discussion. Think with your staff about finding ways to acknowledge and connect with students individually. At Yale, students sign up for nightly individual meetings with one of the teaching assistants. Beyond giving students the individual feedback they need, these sessions can also be a chance to catch small problems before they become large. At Columbia, students receive formal certificates on the last day, but also a decorated paper plate award that acknowledges their unique contributions to class. The “Pericles Award” may go to the greatest public speaker or the “General Will” award may go to a student who was interested in finding consensus among classmates.


As much as you would like to advertise your program as a “real college experience,” your students will know from the timing and pace of the daily schedule and the limitations on their freedom that college will be very different. Consider ways that you can offer students independence, solitude, or freedom even with high standards of supervision. Maybe students want unstructured time on the campus quad with a frisbee or music speakers. Perhaps they can do their own thing in the school’s gym for an hour each day. Yale has a generally unstructured late-afternoon and evening schedule, with students choosing how to spend their time reading, writing, or relaxing within the residential college. They are not permitted to leave campus, but they may request group outings supervised by an RTA. At Columbia, students are allowed an hour of offcampus free time when they can go into the shops on Broadway, and 40 minutes after lunch to decompress in their rooms.

(Part I: Summer Module)

Knowledge for Freedom programs should include some kind of college application support for students. Most current programs do at least three of the following actions during the summer, and students would benefit greatly from all five:

  • Invite representatives from your campus admissions and financial aid offices to speak to students about the process of applying to your college. Most programs do this.
  • Set aside designated time for teaching assistants and other college students to speak about their own experiences applying to college. You may want to have students write up questions anonymously in advance to help guide the conversation.
  • ​Tour your college and others in the area. Show your students the full extent of what your campus offers, especially for students who are interested in majoring outside of the humanities discipline. Carthage College takes its students on field trips to the University of Chicago and University of Wisconsin to show them their options. During Columbia’s orientation students play a version of “truth or dare” that takes them around campus and teaches them about college resources, much like a scavenger hunt.
  • Talk through the basic steps of college applications and the general timeline. The Common App website has robust guides and videos for preparing the college application. Other resources for a college application calendar can be found at:
  • Identify and clearly communicate other college application resources such as free SAT prep courses. Too often students do not know that they should be studying for the SAT until after they’ve taken the test. Others may not know that they need to register for prep courses and take them well in advance of the SAT. It’s likely that your students are eligible for two SAT registration fee waivers. They’ll need to apply for those waivers through their high schools, but in the summer you can help them understand the test and what they should do to prepare.
    • Kaplan: Free SAT and ACT prep classes and practice tests online
    • Princeton Review: Free or low cost SAT/ACT in person and online
    • Khan Academy: College Board’s Official SAT prep course
    • Your local public library may offer free SAT courses

If you expect students to come back during the academic year for more college support, be sure to set those dates in advance and communicate your expectations to students during the summer. See the academic year section for college preparedness modules during the academic year.

(Part I: Summer Module)

The goal of the year-long civic project is to help students apply the seminar’s ideas to their contemporary political lives and to gain practical skills and experience engaging with their own civic world.

In the summer module, programs incorporate civic issues into the summer program through field trips, guest speakers, projects, and debates. Incorporating contemporary civic issues into the summer program helps the syllabus come alive, with students immediately working through the contemporary ramifications of ancient arguments. With so few hours each day, there are limits to the thoroughness of such a civic curriculum and trying to fit it into your summer schedule may tempt you to cut important reading, writing, or relaxing time. We recommend that civic engagement extends into a year-long program following the summer seminar. See the academic year module for civic engagement after the summer.

At Yale, mornings are dedicated to the seminar and small group sessions with teaching assistants. After lunch each day from 2:00 - 4:00pm the students have an activity scheduled, which is often a discussion with a local civic leader. Previous guests have included the New Haven Chief of Police, New Haven Board of Education President, New Haven Alder, Executive Director of the New Haven Land Trust, a playwright, a public artist, and a news correspondent. Students have also gone on walking history tours of the city and visits to the Yale art gallery and other area museums. The Yale program is not strictly summer-based. During the academic year students return monthly to campus to continue reading and discussing texts and to collaborate on a capstone project. In the winter and spring, students organize an event for high school students at Yale’s Minds on Society, Arts, Ideas, and Culture (MOSAIC) interactive lecture series.

At Rochester, Joan Rubin invites civic leaders to lunches nearly every day at the Humanities Center. Past guests have included a civil rights veteran, the former mayor of Rochester, Rochester City Council Member, a city court judge, a program director of a local refugee organization, and a Latinx community leader. After lunch the group has its hour-long seminar on the day’s reading, followed by a second civic activity. Those activities alternate between field trips and a project at the rare book and manuscript library. Field trips have included visits to art galleries, a Native American site, a neighborhood walking tour with the Community Design Center, and observing courtroom proceedings and meeting with a judge. At the rare book and manuscript library the students spend about 14 total hours over two weeks reading archival documents about the 1964 riots in Rochester. The students write and record a podcast about what they gleaned from the documents.

At Ursinus, contemporary civic questions are woven into the seminar. Each lesson is designed to connect primary texts from America’s founding with current debates, and the seminar ends by breaking students into groups of five to discuss the day’s question. For example, on the first day students read the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s Letter to Weightman while discussing the universality of American citizenship. Students then break into small groups to answer the question “what does it mean to be an American citizen?” On another day, students read and discuss the Bill of Rights, and then debate whether hate speech should be protected online.

If you will be continuing with a full-year civic module make sure to set dates during the summer and communicate your expectations to them about when exactly they will need to return to campus. See the academic year section for full year modules on civic engagement.


This program can benefit your undergraduate teaching assistants as much as the high school participants if you support their work and help them cultivate the craft of teaching. Approach evaluations of your staff with two goals: first, help your undergraduate teaching assistants improve their teaching skills; they will appreciate the opportunity to learn from your experience and guidance. Second, document specific actions that your TAs did well for future letters of recommendation. Recording your observations and evaluations during the summer allows your staff to improve and provides documentation that you can use to easily write strong letters of recommendation. At Columbia, many of the undergraduate teaching assistants had little or no teaching experience prior to the summer but were nonetheless able to successfully pursue teaching jobs because of the experience and recommendations they received from the program.

Having formal observations of undergraduate-led classes allows the tutor or teaching assistant a chance to demonstrate their ability to accept feedback and improve. We recommend observing each undergraduate instructor twice over the course of the summer. At Columbia, the graduate coordinator and executive director fill out a simple form in which the observer writes down everything that happens throughout the class. These notes are incredibly useful for letters of recommendation that TAs may request months or even years later. The form also has space for the observer to suggest behaviors or practices that the teaching assistant can stop, start, and continue doing in class. The observer tries to come up with feedback in each category (the last one usually has the most). After class the six teaching assistants converge for a 20 minute meeting while students are at lunch to reflect on their sessions as a group and hear any important announcements. Following the meeting the student who was observed has a short one-on-one meeting to review the evaluation with their observer.


You know your community best! Consider field trips that are connected to themes of citizenship, activism, college preparedness, or to the course texts or authors themselves. Your local museums likely offer discounted or free admission and guided tours for public schools and you should inquire about whether your program is eligible (sometimes it works!). Whatever form of transportation you use, remember that high school students are notoriously slow movers and that you should conduct a headcount before leaving any site.


First, consider how you will use any evaluation you perform. If you are just trying to improve the students’ experience and get great quotes to use for future student recruitment or donor solicitation, consider having the students fill out a program evaluation at the end of the summer like this one from Columbia. If you are trying to track student progress and academic achievement to report on student outcomes, consider having students fill out a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the program for comparison. You might then ask students to rate their confidence in writing, reading, and speaking in class and evaluate whether they’ve gained knowledge about citizenship, college, or other important topics. Finally, if you would like detailed evaluations or to publish research about your program you’ll probably need a designated staff member to evaluate the program and go through IRB approval.