Jefferson High School students investigate a mock murder scene during last summer's Project REAL camp.
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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
June 6, 2006
DeKalb — Sixty students from Rockford Jefferson High School will spend the week of June 19 on the Northern Illinois University campus for a close-up look at where college degrees could take them.
Camp organizers also hope the students will leave understanding the personal changes and hard work required to eventually – and actually – enroll in college.
Thirty sophomores and 30 juniors who are not necessarily college-bound are taking part in the second “summer institute,” paid for partly by Project REAL, NIU's federally funded partnership with the Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College.
Interest in the camp contrasts an otherwise indifference toward education among many of the students: Last year's debut proved so popular that the participants (who are now the returning juniors) formed an “NIU Club” at Jefferson in the fall and raised money to attend a second summer.
“These kids are a lot more focused now,” said Judy Cox-Henderson, coordinator of clinical experiences in the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and adviser to the NIU Club. “Being in the NIU Club was sort of a source of pride for them, and they needed to do well in their classes because of that, and those who took on leadership roles say it really changed them.”
Students are immersed in activities with faculty from the NIU colleges of Education, Engineering and Engineering Technology, Liberal Arts and Sciences and Health and Human Sciences.
Daytime adventures for the sophomores will range from making cheese and mayonnaise and testing blood samples to building paper helicopters and bridges and even probing a murder “CSI”-style. They'll also compete in a TV-like quiz show.
Juniors, who took part in the aforementioned activities last summer, will design roller coasters, program computer games, publish a camp newspaper and create ceramic masks and paintings.
NIU and RVC faculty also will host a career exploration fair Wednesday, June 21, helping the campers to identify their job interests and the paths to those positions.
All campers will live in an NIU residence hall, filling their nights with arcade games, billiards, bowling, dances, movies and sports. NIU students will serve as counselors, allowing the high-schoolers to develop informal friendships and relationships with college undergraduates.
“We want to expose the kids to college and what college is all about. It gives them goals in high school – things to strive for,” Cox-Henderson said. “If you hang around high school kids much, you learn that they don't really understand why they need to do well in high school. But if kids have goals, there's a good chance they'll work harder.”
Nearly all of the incoming juniors opted for honors English last fall, Cox-Henderson said. “They think of themselves as more serious students,” she said. “The camp had an impact on them.”
Meanwhile, word of their experiences in DeKalb spread through their high school.
“I was so surprised last year,” she said. “This was an experiment. I just put this together not knowing what their reaction would be, and they just loved it. I had kids coming up to me in the hallway at Jefferson to ask, 'Are you the lady who does the camp? Because I want to go.' ”
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