8th Grade Academy

Bulldogs For a Day

Citizen Teachers Most students would be thrilled at the prospect of a day off from school, but a group of Boston-area 8th graders was even more excited to spend that mini-vacation learning in class. Instead of reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic at their respective schools, 40 students from Orchard Gardens K-8 School, Dever-McCormack School, and Edwards Middle School set off to take Psychology 101 at a prestigious Ivy League university.

Although the foliage lining the campus trees that November morning was full of bright reds, oranges, and yellows, the only colors on the students’ minds as the bus pulled up to Yale University were blue and white.

“A lot of them knew that it was pretty elite, and a lot of them knew that I went there. As we walked around they kept asking me ‘did you really live here? Did you eat here?’”, said Lucy Arthur-Paratley, a Yale alumna and current AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow with Citizen Schools.

They were in for a full day on campus, starting off with a tour of the Yale art gallery and a chance to sit in on a Yale class (in addition to Psych 101, the students also enrolled in several Freshman Writing Seminars including “Beauty, Fashion, and Ethics,” “Digital Childhood,” and “The Modern Metropolis”).

As much as they enjoyed the class discussions and the gallery’s art collections, the most rewarding part of their tour was interacting with the Yale students themselves. Finding a friendly group of people is just as important in college as it is in middle school, and on this point, the 8th graders were certainly not disappointed!

“What was interesting was that a lot of things surrounding racial protests at Yale were going on. People on campus were more sensitized to making students of color and first generation college students feel included and consciously asking themselves ‘what am I doing to make Yale a more welcoming place?’”

Another perk of this “boomerang effect” was that when Lucy invited some of her former campus mentees to lunch, more “Yalies” showed up than she had anticipated. The 8th graders spent their lunch hour with six current Yale juniors, and they immediately hit it off. Since there were bilingual students from both groups, the conversation flowed freely both in English and Spanish!

“It was a really relaxed and low key environment where they talked about everything from their favorite type of music to the best way to consume as much ice cream as possible in the dining hall.”

After lunch, the 8th graders had the chance to meet even more Yale students when they attended a panel discussion made up of first generation college students of color. Though this setting was much more formal than lunch, the 8th graders had the opportunity to ask questions about study abroad, jobs on campus, work/life balance, and picking majors. “A goal of ours is to introduce kids to students to share these experiences, and who can help them pinpoint these resources.” By the end of the visit, the students were skipping around campus courtyard singing Yale songs and cheers!

“It was a physical manifestation of their sense of belonging. I would say these visits give students a sense of ownership over the college experience and more inevitability. A clear sense that this is their path.”

Read more about the adventures of our students and teaching fellows here.