Catalyst Eighth Grade Graduates At College Before High School

Catalyst graduates from both the Howland Charter and the Circle Rock Charter are participating in the First Generation, Countdown to College Program initiated by St. Mary's University of Minnesota and the Catalyst Schools' board member, Ed Siderewicz.  This four year program engages Catalyst graduates every summer between eighth grade graduation and their graduation from high school.  It promises to have participating students ready for any college they choose.

Ninth-graders prepare early to succeed in college

First-generation students from underserved communities
immersed in college life during new Saint Mary’s program


WINONA, Minn. — Twenty-five 9th-graders from Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Tucson, Ariz., will get a head start on college success this summer, thanks to a first-of-its-kind program offered by Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.


From July 24 to Aug. 7, the university’s Countdown to College academic camp will provide these students (and teachers from their home schools) with activities that will help them prepare for successful college experiences. Countdown to College will boost students’ skills, confidence and knowledge of how to negotiate the social and academic world of college.


Countdown to College offers free classes, recreation, field trips, and room and board. Saint Mary’s plans to welcome back the same students for four consecutive summers. Each year a new group of 9th graders will be selected to participate in the Countdown to College experience, resulting in a total camp population of 100 9th- through 12th-graders by the fourth summer.


“To our knowledge, this is the first program in the nation that offers four consecutive years of early immersion in the college experience,” said Dr. Jane Anderson, dean of the School of Education for Saint Mary’s University, who helped develop the program.


Why the program is needed


Currently, about one of every two economically disadvantaged youth of color in the U.S. does not graduate from high school. Only a small percentage of Latinos and African Americans have college degrees. This is the reality even as demand is rising for better-educated workers who can function in today’s technologically complex global economy.


“Countdown to College is designed to ensure college success for first-generation students whose parents did not have the opportunity to go to college,” said Dr. Anderson. “First-generation students, many of them students of color from underserved schools and communities, are at an economic and educational disadvantage when it comes to reaching and finishing college. These are all factors that are known to significantly limit their ability to attend and succeed in college.”


Countdown to College highlights


Countdown to College seeks to break down the barriers to higher education by exposing youth directly to the college experience for two weeks each summer for four straight years. The first summer, each day will be filled with college orientation and classes in reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, math and leadership. Their schedules will also include supervised study halls, academic contests, sports, recreation, and field trips. Other college preparation subjects, such as science, will be added in subsequent years.


One of the most distinctive aspects of the program is that it includes a teacher or staff representative from each of the participating students’ schools. They will co-teach the classes alongside Saint Mary’s instructors. This will help prepare the university instructors to work with an increasingly diverse population of college students. In turn, the visiting teachers learn how to set their students up for success in college and how to help create a community of support around the students.


The participants in Countdown to College attend schools in the Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Tucson metropolitan areas. Preference is given to graduates of Saint Mary’s middle school partners in the NativityMiguel Network of Jesuit and Christian Brothers’ schools, which are located in those cities.


Countdown to College is funded for 2010-2013 by a generous donation from Jack and Mary Ann Remick of Rochester, Minn., who are long-time supporters of Saint Mary’s University. Mary Ann Remick is also the chairwoman of Saint Mary’s First-Generation Advisory Board.


Profile of a student attending Countdown to College


Countdown to College participant NiaPearl Minor-Clark was born in Chicago. Living with her supportive mother, she moved often due to unsafe neighborhoods and job situations. At one point she stayed with a sister when her mother lost her income and had to live in a homeless shelter. Her mother always stressed the importance of education, and NiaPearl graduated as valedictorian from Chicago’s San Miguel Middle School (Gary Comer Campus). “I will try to do my best wherever I go because I hope to be a chemical engineer one day,” Minor-Clark said.


Part of the broader ‘First-Generation Initiative’


Countdown to College is the foundation segment of Saint Mary’s broader First-Generation Initiative to improve college access and success.


“Countdown to College and our First-Generation Initiative reflect Saint Mary’s mission to make higher education accessible to learners, regardless of their financial situations,” said Brother William Mann, president of Saint Mary’s University.


Countdown to College graduates will receive preferential consideration to participate in Saint Mary’s First-Generation Initiative program, which provides college scholarships, and educational support to first-generation students who demonstrate financial need as well as leadership and academic potential. Beginning this fall, up to 15 students are eligible to receive full four-year scholarships. These scholarships will provide full financial support for tuition, room and board, books, computer, spending money, and one semester of study abroad.


“Students participating in Countdown to College may potentially become part of Saint Mary’s First-Generation Initiative scholarship program, which would be a seamless continuation of support for these students,” said Brother Edmund Siderewicz, assistant to the president for First-Generation and Lasallian Initiatives. “We want to provide full scholarships and opportunities for our First-Generation students – study abroad, internships, life to the fullest – because we know these students have the potential to accomplish great things.”

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