Scholars Program Widens Horizons for At-Risk Students

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

Scholars Program Widens Horizons for At-Risk Students


Byline: Susan Dibble sdibble@dailyherald.com

During Roy Aguilars freshman year at East Aurora High School, he was an average student. He didnt think about his future or about what he might do after he graduated.

"No one would tell me anything about college," he said.

That changed after he was enrolled in the Junior/Senior Scholars, a college readiness program at North Central College that reaches out to students in impoverished neighborhoods in east Aurora and Chicago.

By the end of his junior year in high school, Aguilar was applying to colleges and he received his acceptance at North Central in the fall of his senior year. He graduated from the Naperville college in spring 2007 and will pursue a masters degree in journalism at Columbia College this fall.

"I probably would not have done that either (pursue a graduate degree) had I not participated in Junior/Senior Scholars," Aguilar said. "I would have probably have gone to a community college, or I would have started at a public school and have not done so great."

Record of success

Junior/Senior Scholars celebrated its 20th anniversary last week with a track record of expanding students horizons.

The Illinois State Board of Education recognized it in 2003 as an exemplary program. Mentored and tutored by North Central students, more than 140 of the scholars have gone on to attend college over its 20 years.

In 2007, 90 percent of the programs graduating seniors enrolled in college immediately following high school, independent evaluator Anne Deeter found.

"They have a lot of outcomes they purpose for those students," she said. "Those students are choosing more selective colleges than they might have done on their own."

Janis Fitzsimmons, the programs founder and coordinator, couldnt be more pleased with its success.

"Its been an extraordinary experience, both for our college students and the students from the community. Its been life enriching," she said.

Fitzsimmons said Junior/Senior Scholars was founded after Amoco Research Center in Naperville contacted North Central about its desire to see more young people involved in math and science.

The program started with a summer camp for students from the James Weldon Johnson Elementary School in Chicagos North Lawndale community. That first summer convinced founders that bringing impoverished kids to a college campus was a powerful experience, Fitzsimmons said.

Three years later, the program expanded to include Oak Park Elementary School in east Aurora. Cheryl Lockhart Smitter, Aguilars former teacher, remembers hearing about the scholars program at North Central and that some of the college students involved in it couldnt travel to Chicago.

She stepped forward to suggest that her school also could benefit from the visits of the North Central students.

Only a limited number of students could be selected for the scholars program, but the entire school was included when the programs volunteers put on special events at Oak Park Elementary, she said.

"One of the wonderful things about this program is that it has been ongoing," Smitter said. "It got to the point that everyone wanted to be a junior scholar."

The program has continued to operate with the financial support of North Central College and a variety of business and corporate sponsors.

Student to student

Fitzsimmons said about 400 students from first grade through high school are enrolled in Junior/Seniors Scholars each year through its year-round and summer camp programs.

Two hundred North Central students are involved as tutors, summer camp interns and program coordinators. Students from other colleges also may serve internships at the summer camp.

North Central students visit the two elementary schools in Chicago and Aurora weekly during the school year to tutor the children in the program. …

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