Rockford Jefferson High School students create footprints in paint for a mock crime scene investigation during the 2005 'Real NIU Experience.'
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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
June 8, 2007
DeKalb — Ninety students from Rockford Jefferson High School will travel to DeKalb this month for the third ‘Real NIU Experience’ summer camp, a week-long immersion meant to open their eyes to college.
Part of Project REAL, Northern Illinois University’s federally funded partnership with the Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College, the camp exposes students who are not necessarily college-bound to the benefits of higher education.
And, says busy camp director Judy Cox-Henderson, positive differences are easy to see.
“We ask them how many people intend to go to NIU,” says Cox-Henderson, who interacts with the campers year-round as adviser to the school’s NIU Club, “and a very large number raise their hands. They all want to go to college. The kids are really sticking with it because they see the connection to college.”
Second- and third-year campers are “so much more mature now,” she adds. The older students accompanied Cox-Henderson in recruiting visits for this summer’s newest campers.
“The things they were saying were really impressive. ‘If you’re going to do this camp, we want you to take this seriously. This is a great opportunity,’ ” she says. “They were coming up with these things on their own. It’s really changed them.”
This year’s “Experience,” the largest so far with around 60 returning for a second or third year, unfolds over two weeks.
Thirty students who just completed their freshman year at Jefferson will participate from Sunday, June 17, through Thursday, June 21. Sixty soon-to-be juniors and seniors are expected from Sunday, June 24, through Friday, June 29.
Faculty from the colleges of Education, Engineering and Engineering Technology, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts will teach fun and interesting courses.
Counselors are mostly NIU students, but a few are alumni who now are young teachers at Jefferson.
“We’re really happy about the way the camp spread all across campus,” says Cox-Henderson, whose main responsibility is coordinator of clinical experiences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Whenever I contact people about anything, they’re just wonderful. They’re setting up things so easily.”
For the recent freshmen, their time on campus will mirror the successful camps of the last two years.
Activities will include a CSI-type crime scene investigation, the making of balsa wood bridges and testing blood samples. Campers also will learn what it’s like to live in a residence hall and taste a bit of the college life with fun night activities such as bowling, dancing and movies.
Second and third-year campers, however, are in for a challenge.
“The juniors had actually asked me to have classes that are more like real college classes, rather than, ‘Let’s just go have fun,’ ” Cox-Henderson says. “I talked to the teachers at Jefferson and asked, ‘What are the students’ biggest weaknesses going into college?’ They all said reading and writing.”
Consequently, faculty from NIU’s Department of English will teach four-day versions of English 103 and English 110. One is writing-intensive; the other is reading-intensive.
Students must take at least one, Cox-Henderson says, and a few enrolled in both.
Other classes include computer programming, journalism, photography, Photoshop and pottery. Students also can learn how to design roller coasters or how to play in the Gamelan, an ensemble of Indonesian percussion instruments.
“Health and Human Sciences has packaged its course as ‘Medical Mystery.’ I told them you can’t get kids when you call it microbiology,” Cox-Henderson says. “They came up with ‘Medical Mystery,’ and everyone’s signing up for it. It’s really funny.”
Both groups are coming on Sunday evenings to allow for a longer, and slower, period of ice-breaking and adjustment.
For the second week, a Friday afternoon showcase is planned in the Music Building. Students who made pots will put them on display; those who studied the Gamelan will perform in the concert hall lobby.
Many already have demonstrated the impact of the camp and the NIU Club, Cox-Henderson says. Juniors were offered an ACT prep course in the spring, she says, and almost all of the club members enrolled and scored well.
“The Jefferson teachers really think this all is a great thing. They come to us and ask us to contact students. They think it does a lot of good,” she says. “The parents are just thrilled. They see this as maybe turning their kids around and really getting them interested in college. They’re so excited about it.”
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