The scene at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Oceanview Hall was familiar, even if the timing was a little off.
A group of students arrived at the residence hall with luggage in hand. But this wasn’t the typical horde of college freshmen moving into their dorms ahead of the fall semester.
Instead, the 30 high schoolers who checked into Oceanview Hall in mid-July were participating in the inaugural Achieve Palm Beach County Summer Collegiate Institute, an intensive and intentional weeklong learning experience devoted to empowering rising leaders with the critical resources needed to reach their full potential in higher learning.
“The day they arrived really was like they were arriving at college,” said Stacey Watson, executive director of Achieve Palm Beach County. “We had a student who had their mother and grandmother come with them because they were so excited.”
During July 15-19, the 30 juniors and seniors at the Summer Collegiate Institute got an opportunity to experience college life while attending classes and presentations that focused on college preparedness, college success, community service, and more.
“We wanted to bring in students from all over the county to give them a real college experience, which meant staying in a dorm overnight, being separate from their families, getting mixed in with people they’d never met before,” Watson said.
Students also completed pre- and post-Summer Collegiate Institute surveys in order to help gauge the impact of the weeklong experience. Among the survey’s findings:
- To the statement, “I am confident about taking the ACT/SAT or other entrance exam,” only 13.3% of students said they “Strongly Agree” pre-Summer Collegiate Institute compared to 27.6% post-institute respondents.
- Prior to the institute, only 36.7% of students said they “Strongly Agree” with the statement, “I know what I want to study after high school.” That number jumped to 62.1% after the institute.
- To the statement, “Other people trust and respect me,” 46.7% of students said they “Strongly Agree” prior to attending the institute. That figure improved to 69% following the weeklong institute.
The Achieve Palm Beach County Summer Planning Team
The Summer Collegiate Institute was a collaboration between the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Delray Students First, College Path, United Way of Palm Beach County Mentor Center, Rico’s Scholarship Foundation, Path to College Fellowship, Take Stock in Children Palm Beach, Suits for Seniors, Community Partners, and Palm Beach Atlantic University. Additional support was provided by Wells Fargo, Florida Power and Light, the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Digital Vibez, BDS Productions, and Bethel Pentecostal Community Church, which provided one of the student and chaperone meals.
“It was Path to College and Suits for Seniors who came together and asked, ‘What if we did something in the summer to extend our reach with students?’” Watson said. “Under the auspices of Achieve (Palm Beach County), is there a way we could all come together and do something for students as a pilot program?”
Representatives from the partner organizations began meeting in February and eventually created a collaborative mission statement and a shared vision of who the participating students should be.
The partners collectively agreed to invite 11th and 12th graders who had a G.P.A. of 2.5 or higher. Beyond that, Watson said the organizations had autonomy in terms of the students they selected. They each also committed to following up with the students after the Summer Collegiate Institute and offer assistance in helping them find scholarships, prep for the ACT/SAT, and more.
“There was great enthusiasm around this idea, especially from student-serving organizations,” Watson said.
Students at the Summer Collegiate Institute typically woke up around 6:30 a.m., ate a full breakfast by 7:30 a.m. and broke off into their 40-minute classes and breakout sessions covering topics such as SAT prep, time management, financial management, academic resources and more. There were also team-building lunches and presentations from guest speakers like Steve Prielozny, president of Bank of Belle Glade, William Fleming, Jr., president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, and Brad Sylvain, executive director of Hanley Center at Origins addiction treatment center.
One evening featured a volunteer activity for United Way of Palm Beach County.
“By 9 p.m., the students were all begging to go to bed,” Watson said. A group of student leaders from other local universities — most of whom were Take Stock in Children alums — helped the representatives from the partner organizations chaperone the Summer Collegiate Institute participants.
Watson is proud of the fact that so many different organizations invested in the success of Palm Beach County’s students came together to give a group of its students a taste of college. She was also happy to hear the students enjoyed themselves.
“The county is gigantic — it can take an hour to drive from one side to the other — so the time spent planning this and executing this, although it was well worth it, I know was a stressor,” Watson said. “The goal of this first year was bringing together all these different organizations to see if we could do an event like this and making sure every single student had a great time. I feel we accomplished that.”
The Achieve Palm Beach County Summer Collegiate Institute Class of 2018