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Jennifer Gould's Testimonial

Jennifer Gould

A Counselor's Point of View:
The Big Deal with the REAL NIU Experience Summer Camp

“I can't afford college.”

“Nobody goes to college anymore.”

“No one in my family goes to college, and we're just fine.”

“What's the point of college? There are easier ways to make a lot of money!”

These are the sorts of statements I hear from high school students. So much of the world tells them that the easy way is the best way, that hard work is pointless, and attitude will make you money. So many of them seem to believe that either everything will just be handed to them, or anything worth working for is too good for them or out of their reach. But that is all changing.

It all started with one woman and one idea: love teenagers, and you will change their lives. How right she is! Judy Cox-Henderson has taught me, and many other pre-service teachers and educators already in the business, that to teach teenagers, you have to care about them with all of your heart. But that must take up so much energy, right? Yes, of course it does, but when you team up with so many other people who feel the same way you do, and you start to see lives changing before your very eyes, the energy seems to spring up from nowhere. Even when you have only gotten about four hours of sleep.

There you have it, the hardest part of being a camp counselor at Judy's REAL NIU Experience summer camp for Jefferson High School students: lack of sleep during camp week. Well, that is the second hardest part: the first hardest part is saying goodbye when the week of camp is over.

So, what's the big deal? Why do so many people seem to care so much about this camp, students and adults alike? Well, as the students will tell you, this camp “is a good positive influence,” it “changes lives,” it “makes high school students think about college” and makes them believe that yes, it is not only a possibility for them but perhaps the best choice they have for their futures. By exposing them to a variety of college experiences from attending classes to walking the university to celebrating the end of the day at the Huskie Den, it gives them the opportunity to “get out of the house for five days” and “see what college life is really like.” Many of them have never considered college before camp, but they now realize that college is for them. For others who may have always known college as the next step, they find themselves less intimidated by the whole process and discover that not only are they no longer afraid of the future, but they welcome it with open arms. Either way, I have personally witnessed numerous stunning transformations for the students involved in this camp. I have seen many change from hot-tempered adolescents ready to fight at the drop of a hat into well-mannered young adults ready to take control of their own futures. I have observed slackers who were more concerned with sleeping in class strangely mutate into academically-inclined students concerned with their grade point averages and enrolling themselves in Advanced Placement courses so they can earn college credits while still in high school.

But you can hear all of that from the students whose lives have changed as a result of attending camp at NIU, and the number is somewhere near one hundred (and growing). How, though, does this change the lives of those of us who are adults, having already attended college?

I know I speak for many of the adults involved in this camp when I say that this camp has influenced me almost as much, if not more, than it has the students. By allowing me to interact with students in a setting other than the high school classroom, I find myself becoming a pillar of strength for so many of them, and they in turn become the familiar faces that make my workplace a more comfortable and familiar environment. This exchange has become invaluable to the students and counselors involved. The students find themselves with one more adult who cares about them in so many ways, one more person to ask how their day is going, to be an advocate for them when they are unable to speak for themselves, to help them keep their focuses on the future instead of the instant gratifications of the here and now. We counselors find ourselves with a number of allies in the classrooms, whether we are in there as observers, student teachers, guest speakers, classroom aides, or even the primary teachers. These students know us as people, and in turn, they encourage their friends and classmates to treat us with the humanity and compassion one would expect to occur between lifelong friends.

My participation in this camp has made my transition from college student to high school teacher an easier one. I strongly believe that all pre-service teachers, or anyone considering a profession where they might commonly interact with adolescents, should participate in a camp like this one, a camp where adults and teenagers work together to make the dream of a college experience become a reality for all high school students. These words may seem forced or awkward, but that is only because the human languages are all highly inadequate to explain the possibilities this camp presents, the ways in which it helps students, college and high school, shape their futures.

“I really hope that NIU goes on for years to come, for younger generations also.”

“I believe that others should have the chance to experience camp. It may be the decision between going to college or not.”

“Participating in NIU Club has really motivated me to go to college.”

“Never in a million years did I think I would go to college and have it be a free experience.”

“The NIU Club is the best thing to happen to me in high school. The NIU Club gave me a reason to work hard in school.”

“NIU Club inspires people to really go to college.”

Now, that's what I like to hear high school students saying. This camp is changing lives. I know it has changed mine.