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Article updated: 2/18/2013 9:26 AM

New ECC program gets students ready for college

By Tara García Mathewson

Sean Robinson knows he wants to go to college and thinks he might focus on the medical field. But he admits he has a lot to figure out before then and will take all the help he can get.

Robinson, an Elgin resident and junior at Burlington Central High School, is one of about 50 high school students participating in Elgin Community College's latest college readiness initiative. The newly launched Transitions Academy brings together an ethnically diverse group of students across the four high school districts within ECC's boundaries -- Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, St. Charles Community Unit District 303, Burlington-based Central School District 301 and Elgin Area School District U-46.

Alison Douglas, ECC's director of college readiness and an English faculty member, said the new program is loosely based on the successes of the college's Summer Bridge program. That initiative offers a three-week curriculum developed by high school and college educators that gives recent grads a crash course in reading, writing and math to bring them up to speed with college-level coursework.

The academy will focus less on the nitty-gritty of those subjects during its monthly sessions for students in grades 10, 11 and 12 and a summer component in July.

The academy aims to help students set goals for themselves, stay motivated and develop personal responsibility for their success. It connects each student with a mentor to foster that development and give them a reason to dream big.

Douglas said two courses -- one for seniors and another for sophomores and juniors -- were designed to foster student engagement with a focus on getting kids ready for college with more than just book smarts.

"The public schools are doing great things to improve the quality of education for all our students," Douglas said. "Our hope is that this program is providing extra support."

This year students are matched with mentor volunteers who are affiliated with religious organizations, schools and other community groups. DeSean Coleman, ECC's manager of the Upward Bound college prep program, said the goal was to replicate a student's gender and ethnicity as often as possible with the mentor matches. The long-term goal is to create a "mentor mall," Coleman said, where students can shop for their own adult pairs.

Robinson, who attended the first academy session Feb. 9, said he is excited about the college preparation he'll get through the program over the next two years.

"It's a good opportunity for me to be successful in life," Robinson said. "I want to have more opportunities when I get older."

Ultimately, Douglas said she wants to see at least 25 students per grade, including freshmen, all working in various stages of the program.

With the next session set for March 9, organizers are looking forward to growing the program and solidifying the curriculum throughout the rest of the pilot year.

"All the challenges are absolutely worth it when you work with the students," Douglas said. "They are engaged, and they're happy to be here."

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