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Mary Beth Schaefer

Urban Middle School Students’ Experiences in a College Immersion Program

Mary Beth Schaefer, The School of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Research Collaborators and College Immersion Coordinators: Laura Burlacu and Jennifer Zweifler, Slide Show Creator: Anna Phan


When students in the middle grades begin to focus on building academic skills needed for college and career readiness, there is an important piece that is not often addressed: Experience. Middle grade students need active, experiential learning (NMSA, 2010) in order to envision the look, feel, and purpose of college, as middle school is a critical time in students’ academic life (ACT, 2008; Balfanz, 2009). This presentation focuses on the results of a collaboration among St. John’s University, its New York chapter of the After-School All-Stars, funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, and two high need urban middle schools in Queens. Working together, they produced a developmentally responsive and imaginative approach to college readiness for middle school students called “College Immersion.” In this program, middle school students from vulnerable populations and high need schools choose to engage in 4 full days of college life experiences at St. John’s University during their Winter Break. Three years of research on urban middle school students’ experiences of four days of college life at St. John’s University (2011; 2012; 2013) inform this study. Using surveys, participant observation and open-ended interviews, we gained an understanding of students’ perceptions of college life before and after participating in the program. Findings suggest that students who participate in College Immersion (1) deepen their understanding of the kinds of work expected at the college level; (2) feel more confident about going to college in the future and doing well; and (3) gain critical understandings of college expectations and behaviors.