On June 18, 2012 at 7:30am, 36 Teachers, 8 Mentor Teachers, 3 Grade Heads and 1 Middle School Program Director gathered around the flag pole at Durham Academy Middle School for “Morning Brilliance.” After an inspiring message, the summer 2012 staff was ready to welcome 155 middle school students with an energetic rendition of the Student U’s version of “Joy to the World.”
For 6 weeks, teachers and students interacted in core classes (English, Math, Science and Global Connect), Read Fearlessly and electives. Mentor teachers were impressed daily by the level of thought, creativity, and rigor in every classroom. One Friday, a 6th grade Global Connect class delivered “Where I’m From” poems, incorporating what they had learned about culture and identity into beautiful poetry about their childhoods, favorite foods and heritage. Outside, students in an 8th grade science class used their bodies to create atoms and demonstrate the difference between covalent and ionic bonds. Throughout the summer, the strongest cohort of teachers ever to work at Student U made classes come to life, engaging their students in challenging classroom material.
During electives, students modeled, stepped, sang, wrote stories and filmed a documentary. Students engaged in athletics like Ultimate Frisbee and Zumba as well as academic electives like Chinese Culture and Mock Trial.
The Grade Heads worked with students and teachers daily to create a culture of safety and success. While Grade Heads took care of daily tasks like Meet & Greet and attendance, they also planned a big field trip for their grade. Ms. April, Grade Head for Class of 2019, took her students on a one day trip to Wilmington, NC. Mr. Ian, Grade Head for Class of 2018 , led a 2-day overnight trip to Washington, DC and Ms. Radhika, Grade Head for Class of 2017 took a 3-day overnight trip to Asheville, NC. On each trip, students beamed with excitement as they had new experiences and created stronger bonds with their friends and teachers. During the Class of 2018 trip to DC, students visited the Holocaust museum. Students made connections from their Read Fearlessly book, Milkweed, to the artifacts in the museum. They also delivered “I Have A Dream” speeches on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. One students’ speech addressed the issue of animal cruelty and combined the persuasive strategies he learned in English with the advocacy tools he learned in Global Connect to call his peers to action for his cause.
As the summer came to a close, students worked hard to complete culminating projects which included using math to build scale models of the Washington monuments, writing letters advocating for increased involvement in the conflict in the Congo, and completing powerful personal narratives.
On the last day of the summer program, teary eyed students piled onto buses, sad to leave the community they grew to love over the summer. Students were consoled by their teachers and were assured Student U is not over. This summer is just one chapter in the Student U journey.