Commentary—Academic Summer Camp: An Opportunity for Gifted Minority Students

March 1992 Masthead

Richard Chandler
Mathematics and Science Summer Institute, Arlington, TX

What If you were able to take exactly 100 Identified gifted-minority high school students from Harlem, New York to central Long Island for a three-week camp-out during the summer vacation period? What If you were able to provide three university professors to teach courses In science, mathematics and computer science? Finally, what If you were able to bring together thirty high school teachers to serve as supervisors and mentors for these academically gifted students? Would It make a difference?

These questions frame the outline for a program that attempts to establish a viable alternative for disadvantaged minority students from Harlem, New York that have been Identified as potentially gifted but are not performing up to their academic potential. These students are found to be at a crossroad In their lives and must make a serious decision concerning their academic future that will most certainly Influence the rest of their lives. The primary goal of the summer program Is to remove these students from a hostile damaging environment and place them in a rural-academic setting where they will be able to review their situation and make some Informed decisions.

In 1985 the germ of an Idea to establish an academic summer camp for disadvantaged-gifted minority students was born! This Initial program was designed to Identify 100 gifted-secondary students from Harlem, New York and provide them with a three-week academic camp held at the Southampton Campus of Long Island University. Three university professors were hired to teach a three-week short course In Physical Science, Advanced Mathematics and Computer Applications. Thirty secondary teachers were also selected to receive a small subsistence allowance, to live and work with these students. Most of these functional components and activities were eventually funded by private foundations and/or private companies. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was able to fund the teacher participation for the Initial three years of this summer program.

Because of the vast scope and many Imponderable variables, attempts at establishing any type of statistical-research model have been unsuccessful. My purpose here Is to provide a subjective description of this program for review, consideration and further discussion. The cost of this program demands a significant statistical assessment model, but I believe, Intuitively, that this effort will provide generous benefits to our growing minority student population.

In 1985 the New York City Board of Education was frustrated by the obvious fact that many potentially gifted minority students at the secondary level were performing far below their potential and were unable to gain access to the “better” academic high schools. It was suggested that the Board of Education provide a series of special academic programs for these students. Several programs were proposed but each had major draw-backs that made them unacceptable. Our program proposed an Intensive academic program In science and mathematics, to be held during the summer vacation period. These Initial parameters proved acceptable to the Board and after several years of refinements and false starts the project was funded.

During the summer of 1989, the initial program was started. The first step was to Identify middle school minority students that were known to be gifted academically but were performing below expectations. These students and their parents were Interviewed by school personnel and the camp administrators. The primary consideration was that the students wanted to improve academically and their parents were supportive of their Involvement in an academic summer camp.

We wanted the summer camp to be an extraordinary environment that would affect an attitudinal change in each student. The focus of all students, teachers and staff was to be upon academics In a dean, secure and healthy atmosphere that would be conducive to learning. The hope was to nurture young minds and develop a love for learning.

Daily Routine for Students

First thing in the morning was a good breakfast. This event proved to be a new experience for a large majority of the students. After breakfast, the students went through a sequence of three concurrent academic classes – 33 of the students attended mathematics during the first hour. Next they went to an hour of computer science and the final hour was for physical science. Each course was designed to challenge the student to seek more Information In the subject area. Lunch was scheduled for two hours to provide time to eat and for a period of rest and free time. After the lunch period, a special course on SAT preparation was provided In the areas of language and mathematics. Immediately after this course, the students were provided a “mandatory” period of athletics. Soccer, tennis, swimming, volleyball, touch football and basketball were offered to all students. Dinner was scheduled next and a block of two hours was again provided for the students to eat and take care of personal needs. From approximately 7:00pm until 10:00pm, teachers provided Individual help for a small group of students. At various times, students met with a special guest lecturer such as Sheldon Glashow, the Nobel prize winning physicist from Harvard University. On some week days, students visited Brookhaven National Laboratory or Cold Harbor Springs Research Facility. Two Sundays were set aside for family visits, athletics and other activities. On Friday and Saturday evenings, we had dances and other social opportunities. One Saturday we had a Mathematics Olympiad and on another Saturday we had a Physics Olympiad. During subsequent years, we were able to invite foreign students from France, Switzerland, Africa and Russia. These foreign students added immeasurably to our program.

Subjective Outcomes Viewed from Inside

The first few days that the students were at the camp were chaotic to say the least. There were several fights. Students “cut” classes and refused to participate fully In the activities. On the fourth day, the kind but firm hand of the teachers and a large degree of peer pressure began to provide the kind of atmosphere that we had hoped for! All students attended classes, participated In athletics and participated fully in the evening programs. Parent visits were met with amazement and delight at the progress their son or daughter was making In academics. During the last week of the camp, the teachers began to be truly challenged by the students and felt a genuine sense of accomplishment. The SAT program saw a jump of from 200 to 300 points on students’ comprehensive scores. The dosing ceremonies were punctuated with tears and laughter of joy. The Board of Education was to follow-up on these students, but no record of any type was ever kept. There Is a general feeling that these students that attended this program were eventually successful and did go on to “better” high schools. But, the real proof as to the value of this program must lie In the long term effect on these students In college and In later life.


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