Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

From Cheryl Lilhanand—the Columbia Cohort Chaperone
With eyes wide open my cohort of six high school students experienced the unique opportunity to visit major colleges back east during one full week of traveling, followed by a three-week course at Columbia. To say the least, this unusual and unique opportunity truly opened their eyes to new horizons of which they never dreamed, let alone thought possible. As a result they have gained confidence in themselves and proved that students from West Contra Costa USD can compete with the best and are prepared to handle the course load from an Ivy League School, or any other top ranked school in this country.

From the beginning, our pace was extremely hectic. Our week started with an early morning flight to the Big Apple. For some this was their first trip out of the State, for one it was her first plane ride. As we crossed the Queensborough Bridge to enter Manhattan the students were so excited and became wide awake as they caught their first glimpse of the high rises of New York City, which seemed to reach for the sky.

During our first week we went on a whirlwind tour of four top schools. On our first morning we rose early to catch the subway to Penn Station where we boarded our first Amtrak to Pennsylvania. Upon arrival in Philadelphia we met up with the Cornell cohort and together toured Independence Hall. To walk the grounds where our country was founded and hear historical stories was truly amazing. Visiting this area of Philadelphia fit in nicely with my student’s classes, which they would soon attend at Columbia.

As with my previous trips, my cohort was very impressed with UPenn and all the support systems built into their programs. Not only is the campus gorgeous, every alumnus and student we spoke to raved about his experiences there. Also, as in the past, more than one of my six students plan to apply to UPenn. In fact, the ILC has students attending this university now.

Our next day took us upstate to a new college for the ILC campus tour: Sarah Lawrence. Here the students were greeted on a much smaller campus located about a half an hour train ride from NYC. What a difference in size. During the tour we sat in a typical lecture hall—with no more than 30 seats. Oh, the advantages of what small colleges can offer with small class sizes as well as constant individual academic support and counseling. Here again, two of my students felt very comfortable in this setting and plan to apply.

Thursday we headed up the Hudson on Amtrak again. Upon arrival we headed straight to Hyde Park, summer home and Presidential library of FDR. After watching an excellent video on his challenging life and touring his house and gardens, we learned to really appreciate his dedication to the American public knowing the constant battle he had with polio. Then we were on to Vassar. Trying to ignore the near 100ยบ heat, we attended an information session, which was followed by a campus tour. Since there is no graduate program, professors are able to focus their attention on their students. Later, after talking to some alumni over dinner, we were told that Vassar is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S., such pride. On a side note, one of the ILC students I brought here last year will attend Vassar as a freshman in the fall!

Friday we were off to Connecticut to visit Yale. Their information session was the most dynamic of all the schools we visited. We were so fortunate to have lunch with Yohanna Pepa, a former ILCer who attends Yale. She brought some current students as well and afterwards they gave us a personalized private tour. Here again, a couple of my students added Yale to their application list.

In between our site visits we met with current students and/or alumni from UPenn, Vassar, Yale, and Columbia over lunch or dinner. In each case the conversations at the table were priceless. My cohort felt so comfortable asking endless questions about the curriculum, class size, support offered, housing, clubs, overseas programs, etc. I strongly feel the dinners and luncheons were probably just as powerful and informative as were all of the site visits.

After a week of traveling my students finally moved into the dorms at Columbia. Over the next three weeks they experienced student life; such as the stresses of completing assignments on time, massive reading assignments, doing laundry and eating in the cafeteria.

Four students took Constitutional Law and two took Presidential Powers, from Washington to Obama. The Con Law students read many court cases and debated a number of issues. They even had to write a six-page court briefing. Whereas the two in Powers had to complete a major research paper, 20 pages long. Students in both classes had an extensive amount of reading and class participation was an important part of both courses. All six students said they absolutely loved their class. They all repeated that the ILC should continue to offer these two classes to students in the future.

Our district can be proud of all six. They worked hard and took their classes very seriously. Each one loved their class and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge each one presented.   In our daily briefings I could see them gain confidence in a variety of areas from their debating skills to doing extensive research. In short, they blossomed and took their challenges head on ...and succeeded!

The best part about being a chaperone to six high school students for four weeks is seeing them open up; academically, socially, and culturally. My students gained confidence by reaching outward and upward, they met their challenges and took pride in their accomplishments whether it be in a class debate or quiz or paper, their smiles grew bigger. Their conversations changed. Their thinking jumped to a different and higher level.

None of this would be possible without the incredible vision and dedication of the ILC founders: Charles Ramsey and Madeline Kronenberg. Another very important person to the success of the program is Don Gosney. And of course none of this would be possible without the generosity of the sponsors. On behalf of my cohort I want to thank the sponsors for giving my students the opportunity of a lifetime. I know how much this trip meant to each one. In our daily debriefs they often expressed their amazement and gratitude to the ILC program and the sponsors. After meeting and talking to other students in their classes they soon realized our group was the ONLY one supported by someone other than the individual family. My hat goes off to each of you...you are truly making changes in our student’s lives, in more ways than you can imagine.

What more can we ask for? Well, we now hope this cohort, as well as the other cohorts, will share their incredible experiences with other students in our district so they too can reach for the stars with eyes wide open.

From the Mother of Lucas Lochner Bravo

It was late December 2011, summer in the Southern Hemisphere. We were on vacation in Chile. As soon as we got there, my son Lucas informed me that he was applying for ILC and that he needed to talk with someone in the USA to get the details. After a long and expensive phone conversation, Lucas told me, “I have to write some essays as part of the selection process,” and “I have a deadline.”

From that day on, I started my own journey as a mom, being with Lucas every step of the process.

During that vacation in Chile, while the rest of us spent time on the beach, or in the pool, or going places, Lucas stayed home, sometimes going to bed as the sun was rising, working on his essays for ILC.

I saw how just writing about a specific topic enhanced his knowledge about life, about the world, and about himself.

It was the time of the Occupy movement in the USA, a time of economic hardship for many families—foreclosures, unemployment, global warming and so on. I saw how Lucas was becoming more and more interested in what was happening in the world; at the same time I saw how he started an internal dialog, searching for possible solutions.

I saw my son more involved and engaged, with more clear political philosophies that reflect his own values in everyday life.

Finally, after a stressful but extremely enriching interview process before the ILC panel, Lucas was nominated as one of the kids who would participate in ILC at Columbia University, attending a Constitutional Law class.

What followed that day was a preparation for the big day that he and five other students would leave for the East Coast, to be active participants in the Constitutional Law class.

Before the trip, Lucas prepared everything by himself; I was silently close to him.

When he left for Columbia, I felt a mix of feelings: emptiness, joy, and excitement. I knew that this would be an extraordinary experience for him.

During the four weeks that he was there, I had my own routine; at 10:00 am I would have my coffee break and I would enjoy reading Lucas’ blog as well as the other students’ blogs.

I saw how Lucas was transforming in front of my eyes; he became this young man, who started using terms like “social justice,” “human rights,” “freedom,” “equality.” It brought memories of my own adolescence, growing up in a country under dictatorship.

What ILC has given to Lucas is a treasure, an experience during which the kids needed to integrate intellectual work, social skills, life skills and ideals that make you grow as a person.

We are so grateful to ILC for this opportunity that otherwise we would not have been able to offer to Lucas.

Lucas’ younger sister has seen his progress through this experience, and now she is thinking of applying to ILC too, because she knows it would be an experience that would change her life too.

For now I need to prepare myself. My son will leave soon for college, a new chapter in his life as well as mine. In my culture, kids stay with their families when they go to college. Here it is different. I need to let him go.

As a friend of mine says …..”We give our children roots…and we give them wings.”

Thanks, ILC
Victoria Bravo (Lucas’s mom)