It is back to school for Adrena Collins this summer, but she isn't attending an ordinary summer school -- she is currently studying DNA.
Nevertheless, she says, "I really like this program!"
Collins is one of 63 students attending a three-week math and science intensive program run by the University of Puget Sound. Seventh to 12th-graders show up at the UPS campus for the Puget Sound Summer Academic Challenge for a full day of hands-on experiments, field trips and projects.
The program works mainly with low-income, minority and first-generation students in the Tacoma area. It helps academically promising students stay on track and prepare for post-secondary education.
This is Collins' second year in the program and she discovered something very important abut herself — she didn't realize how much she enjoyed science until she started the Summer Academic Challenge. As an incoming junior at Stadium High School, she relishes her access to science technology and her college-level experiences.
Students' commitment to their education and to themselves is key to being selected into the program, says Kim Bobby, an associate professor in the UPS School of Education and chief diversity officer. Students must take the initiative to apply, and their parents have to write an essay about how the student will stay committed to the program.
Once they are in, they have a classroom experience that is very different from what they do during the year. Students are busy all day building models, executing computer programs and conducting lab work. This year, the youngest group is learning about salmon restoration, the middle group is immersed in architecture, and the oldest group is focusing on genetics and GPS systems.
Dontae Alexander, an incoming eighth grader at Baker Middle School, just got back from a day out at a creek. The program has been a positive experience for Alexander, who says he wants to return next year. The program is closer to home and has more science than the program he attended last year at the University of Washington.
The Summer Academic Challenge is a continuation of the Access Program run by UPS done in tandem with the Tacoma School District. UPS shows up on school campuses throughout the year for tutoring by college students and events like "College Access Day." This way there is a continued presence on school campuses to constantly encourage students to look toward college.
The goal for the two programs is to zero in on student's academic identity, according to Bobby. The programs help counteract conflicting messages students receive about what to value about themselves and peer pressure that may lead students astray.
"You ask students, who wants to go to college, and everyone says yes," Bobby says. If they really mean it, they should take advantage of the resources found through Access and Summer Academic Challenge.
According to Bobby, 75 percent to 80 percent of Access and Summer Academic Challenge students make it to some type of post-secondary education. This number is impressive since many of the students who drop out of the Tacoma School District are minority students, she says. The programs may not be the only reason for such a high success rate, but they definitely contribute.
What helps is the rhetoric of the program. As Chandra Crosby, one of the summer teachers for incoming ninth and 10th graders, says, it is never "if you go to college" — it is always "when you go to college." Crosby says conducting the program on campus and having teaching assistants from UPS helps expose students to college life and explore their options.
At the end of the three-week session, students will give a multimedia presentation to parents, peers and community members.
The program creates a support system that involves parents who have the opportunity to meet with campus administrators to learn about financial aid and the college admission process. For the program, teachers are brought in from the Tacoma School District and UPS. The curriculum is developed by UPS faculty.
Summer Academic Challenge is funded by private donors and UPS. Local companies and organizations made this program possible this year through $73,000 in grants. The Summer Academic Challenge has been around for 18 years.
Collins says she likes the fact that the program is a way to show colleges she is not wasting her summer. Her ambitions lie at Stanford.
"We are focusing on science and I find that fascinating."