- Associated Press - Friday, July 29, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - On a sunny summer day, about 25 young teens from South Bend are sitting in classrooms at the University of Notre Dame, working on skills including simplifying algebraic equations, writing in journals and analyzing the dramatic arc of a novel.

In the afternoon, they’ll be sketching the details of prehistoric artwork at the Snite Museum, touring a campus science laboratory or ice skating indoors. For many of them, it’s their first time on skates.

And they’re engrossed in the experience.

“I knew this would be a great thing for me,” says 14-year-old participant Danielle Barrett, who soon will be a freshman at Clay High School. “This isn’t like a regular classroom. This is fun.”

The teens are participating in Talent Search, a U.S. Department of Education-funded program that provides help for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to finish high school and succeed in college. Talent Search was founded in 1965, and Notre Dame has operated the program in this region since 1980.



Danielle says her favorite experience so far during the summer camp was a field trip to Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. Danielle had never been to the museum before, but she and her father share a love of cars.

Derek Ash, 13, said he wasn’t sure about joining Talent Search when he first heard about it, but now he likes it. “They do a lot of really cool stuff,” says Derek, an eighth-grader at Brown Intermediate Center.

Talent Search serves about 900 local students a year, students in grades six to 12 from South Bend Community School Corp. high schools and intermediate centers. Two-thirds of students served must be prospective first-generation college students and/or from low-income households, but any student in a participating school may apply. Students may enroll at any time from sixth grade through 12th grade.

Most Talent Search activities are provided during the school year in the students’ schools.

Program staffers regularly visit the participating schools, providing workshops for students on topics such as career readiness, test preparation, study skills and applying for college. High school seniors in the program may have the opportunity to go on a chaperoned college visit trip - either a two-day trip to tour campuses in Indiana or a weeklong trip to visit campuses in Florida, California or other states.

Talent Search also helps eligible students apply for the 21st Century Scholars program, Indiana’s program that provides up to four years of undergraduate tuition at Indiana public colleges or universities for low- to middle-income students.

For parents who didn’t attend college, navigating the path of college applications and funding can be a challenge. “It can be difficult to get a parent to voluntarily sign up their child in eighth grade for the 21st Century Scholars program,” says Ethan Zagore, director of Notre Dame’s TRiO programs, which include Talent Search.

Talent Search staffers help by explaining the benefits of signing up (free college tuition) and the steps parents and their children need to take to remain eligible.

Each summer, about 25 seventh- and eighth-graders in Talent Search attend a two-week intensive day camp at Notre Dame. For some of the students, it’s the first time they’ve ever been to Notre Dame or visited a college campus.

The summer classes provide lots of hands-on activities and visual learning, says Melissa LaPlace, the math instructor in the summer program. She’s assistant principal at Brown Intermediate Center during the school year.

The students adjust to the level of rigor and make new friends.

“I was nervous at first, but it’s fun,” says Dimitri Hairston, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at LaSalle Intermediate Academy. “It will help me a lot during the next school year.”

Some South Bend participants from the early years of the program since have graduated from college and now work at Talent Search, helping a new generation of students.

“I’m a poster child for this program,” says Sonya Watkins, the associate director.

Watkins was a student participant in Talent Search before graduating from Riley High School in 1991. She later earned a bachelor’s degree at Indiana University South Bend and a master’s degree at Iowa State University. Her own daughter now attends Butler University.

Talent Search federal grants generally are provided on five-year cycles. Notre Dame is in the fifth year of the current grant, and expects to hear by the end of August if the program funding will be renewed for another five years.

If grant funding is renewed, Talent Search will continue to serve the South Bend public schools, and may also expand to include students at Xavier School of Excellence and Career Academy South Bend, two local charter schools, Zagore said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2aAyoA5

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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