Northwestern Academy Starts with Summer Activities

Northwestern Academy Starts with Summer Activities

How do humans construct knowledge about their place in the universe? Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools started this summer with a three-week summer session for one group of students on this heady theme — pursued through field experiences, readings, and a mini capstone project.

The overall goal for Northwestern Academy is to prepare academically talented, lower-income Chicago high school students for selective colleges. Over three and a half years, the students’ experiences will include summer classes, college counseling, academic enrichment and leadership development. Eighty students are selected for the Academy each year through an application and interview process beginning in February of the students’ freshman year.

“We want to get students thinking with an introduction to interdisciplinary way of learning, making connections across subjects, and will try to continue that theme with enrichment throughout the year,” says Northwestern Academy director Cassandra Geiger about the summer session. Students also were introduced to chemistry and physics, and a writing seminar to help students build writing skills is being developed.

Field experiences
This summer, field experiences in support of the “constructing knowledge” theme took students to Northwestern University as well as to the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. At Northwestern, students explored historic books and 15th-century maps in the Special Collections at Deering Library and toured the library to learn about navigating information. A one-night camping trip in Michigan also extended students’ learning through a new experience.

In a mini capstone project presented during a showcase event, students presented a multimedia piece, op ed or policy letter based on their research on a social issue. Students selected topics such as sustainability, equality in the justice system, segregation in Chicago and the myth of the American dream. “Many students really care about these issues, such as violence in schools and immigration. It’s a chance for them to funnel their reflections,” says Geiger.

College planning is closely entwined with all that the Academy students do. “Later during the college process, students will be presenting themselves and their place in the world, so the earlier we can get the students thinking about that the better. That’s why we’re talking about identity, connections and values,” Geiger says.

“Especially with the capstone, students learn how to approach documenting their work, how to show their interests and passions,” Geiger notes. “The college application is essentially a documentation of your four years of high school — what you think, what you value, how you choose to spend your time.”

Custom-tailored program
A different model of delivery is being used for students who participated in a two-day summer session. Like the three-week group, these students met for daylong sessions at Northwestern Law School. They focused on the power of impressions and understanding motivations. For example, role-playing took center stage as the group considered impression making and body language. This group will continue to meet once a month and have different cultural exposures.  

During the fall, both groups will continue to meet at locations around the city including neighborhood Chicago Public Library locations. In the customized Northwestern Academy program, students will also meet with an individual adviser or facilitator and participate in enrichment activities including the Chicago Humanities Festival.

In addition, students may visit Northwestern’s Evanston campus, such as for library visits or exploring with graduate students what it means to study a topic across disciplines. Later during their junior year each student will complete an in-depth capstone project involving analytical research, and volunteers within the Northwestern community will act as content advisers for help with writing and research. 

Coming up, a writing seminar to help students build writing skills is a top priority, according to Geiger. Self-regulatory work and reinforcing study skills are other areas of focus.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/11/14