- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Every summer, high school students look forward to spending their vacations on the beach, working a part-time job or going to college. Going to college? Universities across the country open their campuses each summer to thousands of high school seniors, juniors and in some cases even sophomores. These “pre-college” programs place teens in dorms and classes, where they learn the life of a college student.

“It gave me a running start, kept my mind and body going,” said Max Sirkin, 17, a student from Southbury, Conn., who participated in the University of Pennsylvania’s four-week program in biomedical research. “It definitely will help me out for college.”

Penn, an Ivy League school, does not award credit for the biomedical program. Instead, the university offers a separate pre-college program in which students live on campus and take one or two classes for college credit.

“The pre-college program is our biggest program,” said Rosalie Guzofsky, interim director for summer sessions. “Students enroll in regular university classes that last six weeks. Some take one class, some take two.”

Each of these classes — normally a semester in length — are compacted into an intense six-week blitz for gifted high schoolers.

“Students fill out an application and go through a mini version of admissions of what it is for university,” said Ms. Guzofsky. “Students submit recommendations, transcripts, grades and SAT scores. We must ensure they have the ability to pursue a university class.”

Students involved in Penn’s pre-college program are offered workshops, social events and field trips throughout the six-week program.

In addition to its pre-college program, Penn also offers four-week programs in science or art.

For example, the biomedical research program Mr. Sirkin attended this summer gave the high school senior a chance to work with professors in doing research related to plasma, DNA and RNA.

“We’d have an hour lecture from a doctor in the morning, an hour of discussion and an hour to work on our independent research project before lunch,” said Mr. Sirkin. “We would then spend three hours in the lab. I had thousands of dollars of equipment at my fingertips and could do research I never would have been able to do otherwise.”

Students in the four-week program received no grades or credit for their work — which doesn’t bother Mr. Sirkin.

“I want to be a doctor, either research or clinical,” he said. “I didn’t really do it for [credit]. The program interested me even more in biomedical [research]. It is fantastic stuff.”

Johns Hopkins University also offers a program aimed at high school students who have completed their sophomore or junior year.

Johns Hopkins brings 200 to 250 students to its Baltimore campus to take up to two undergraduate courses that can be transferred to virtually any university in the country, said Jill Kearney, assistant director of academic services at Johns Hopkins.

“Students have a whole itinerary planned out,” Ms. Kearney said. “We have career panels, an admissions workshop, trips to museums, the NASA flight center and other academic and social activities. We go to Six Flags and Orioles games, to Washington, D.C., and shopping in a mall. All of our activities are supervised by Residence Life staff.”

Like Penn’s program, Johns Hopkins’ is also intense.

“We primarily accept those with very strong grades,” Ms. Kearney said. “It is very intense so we get a well-rounded picture of the student. It allows students to make themselves more attractive [to other colleges].”

Both Penn and Johns Hopkins adjust their student codes because they are hosting minors rather than college-age adults.

“All our residence halls are broken up by male and females,” Ms. Kearney said. “There is nightly supervision and students have a curfew. We have individual programming and our resident assistants provide extra programming.”

High school students in the Penn program are separated by gender, by floor and are under very strict residential rules.

“They have a laundry list of rules and regulations,” said Ms. Guzofsky. “They learn what it is like to be a university students, manage time of their own and the structure of responsibility in a university class. But they are not college students. They are minors and do need supervision. During the day they have a little more freedom. It is not an easy take but we take it seriously.”

Candy Breakwood is a resident assistant for the Johns Hopkins pre-college summer program.

“I am basically like a big sister,” said Miss Breakwood, who supervises a group of 22 high school girls. “If they want to chat, talk about something or if they are having trouble they can come to me — basically a general reference to the kids if they need anything.”

Besides acting as a “big sister,” Miss Breakwood acts as a supervisor on her floor but rarely disciplines.

“We have room checks in the evening to make sure all the kids are back,” she said. “They must sign out when leaving campus. We watch out for everything. If a resident gets into some sort of trouble, we have two adult supervisors who we report to. They take care of the discipline and the rules and codes of conduct.”

The supervision is not overbearing however, said Mr. Sirkin.

“That’s one of the great things about the program,” he said. “The college lifestyle and meeting kids from all across the United States. Our curfews are pretty late and the respect and trust is with freedom to not do stupid stuff. We are expected to have our room clean and laundry done, basically act self-sufficiently.”

Students at both Penn and Johns Hopkins, while admitted for the summer, are not guaranteed undergraduate admissions, and students are told they should not expect admissions based on the program.

“We can’t promise this program will increase their chances for admission,” said Ms. Kearney. “It is not an official connection, and we don’t want to mislead students. We are not going to take you because you have done this summer program. One of our goals is certainly an admission connection, and to the student it makes themselves more attractive to universities.”

“It is important to have this opportunity for this experience at an Ivy League program,” said Ms. Guzofsky. “They get exposure if that is what they want to do. Students do see it as a leg up, especially for competitive schools. We do give them letters and transcripts. It is very important for universities to give high schools an opportunity.”

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