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.