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News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

June 16, 2009

Project REAL camp returns for fifth year

Some Rockford Jefferson High School students
will design lessons, ‘teach’ incoming freshmen

DeKalb, Ill. — Last fall’s end of the federally funded “Project REAL” partnership between Northern Illinois University, the Rockford Public Schools and Rock Valley College hasn’t deterred Judy Cox-Henderson’s mission.

Cox-Henderson, coordinator of clinical experiences in the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, devoted much of her involvement during Project REAL’s five years to exposing Jefferson High School students to the benefits of a college education.

Her prime audience: students with college potential but without college on their radar. Her prime vehicle: the REAL NIU Experience, a week-long summer camp on the NIU campus that has provided a good taste of college life, including courses from several disciplines, a “UNIV 101” class and life in the residence halls.

Thirty students from Jefferson, ranging from this fall’s sophomores to recent graduates, will return to campus Sunday, June 21, for the fifth Project REAL camp.

An initiative grant from NIU’s Strategic Planning process is providing the financial support.

“We’re trying to keep it going,” said Cox-Henderson, who also has supervised an extracurricular club at Jefferson for veteran campers who held fundraisers to fund additional DeKalb trips. “Some of this year’s group have come to camp since they were freshmen, and it’s really important for them to go this final time.”

The camps have proven successful.

Some REAL NIU Experience “graduates” have enrolled at NIU, and others are pursuing higher education by starting at Rock Valley or at Highland Community College in Freeport. Although Cox-Henderson is pleased, she credits an overall “change in culture” at Jefferson for the results.

“There is much more of a focus now on the idea of college as something students should plan for,” she said. “Ours is just one among several good programs going on.”

Project REAL campers can take classes in English, both reading and writing.

They can create video games with a professor from the College of Education and design roller coasters with a high school physics teacher. They will investigate and solve a public health mystery – most likely based on the H1N1 swine flu pandemic – with faculty from the College of Health and Human Sciences. They have their pick of three art courses taught by faculty in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Camp counselors will lead the “UNIV 101” courses about college life and college-level study skills.

And, for the first time, Cox-Henderson will offer an “Introduction to Teaching Methods” course with strategies for secondary schools. “A lot of the campers are planning on going into teaching,” she said.

“Even though our primary emphasis was supposed to be the math- and science-related fields, our camp counselors are pre-service teachers. The campers are interacting with students who are planning on going into teaching. That’s pretty important,” Cox-Henderson added. “If I had to do it all over again, that probably would’ve been one of my main focuses. That’s one place we could’ve made a big impact.”

Those campers in the “Teaching Methods” course will design a lesson plan for a class of eighth-graders and then have the chance to actually deliver it.

Some recent graduates of Rockford’s Flinn Middle School and the Rockford Environmental Science Academy (RESA) are spending the week of June 15 at a similar camp at Rock Valley. Those students who complete all four days are invited to NIU to spend the night Thursday, June 25, and sample the REAL NIU Experience the next day: Part of their Friday would include the class taught by Jefferson students.

Cox-Henderson has replicated her popular “College to Career Club” at both Flinn and RESA, and has been met with good participation. Bringing some of those incoming freshmen to NIU for a night and a day can provide the kind of interaction with older teens that will make them more comfortable when they start at Jefferson this fall.

Jefferson students already have accompanied Cox-Henderson into the middle school to attend and run meetings of the clubs there, and the contact between the schools grew even more with a “shadowing” project where eighth-graders spent a day at Jefferson in the company of a high school student.

“All the principals were very enthusiastic,” she said. “It’s had positive effects.”

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