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Students Looking Ahead to College Look to Center for Talent Development

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November 2, 2006

Evanston eighth-grader Sophie Graham laughed when she revealed where she “went to camp” this past summer.

Like many other Evanston teens and pre-teens, Sophie chose to pursue something she was interested in. But, unlike many others, she headed back to the classroom. 

Sophie was one of more than 2,200 students who participated in the nationally acclaimed summer enrichment program offered through Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development. Each year, the Center for Talent Development (CTD) offers a wide variety of classes to academically talented pre-K through 12th grade students as part of its Summer Program. Some of the classes include computer programming, biology, Latin, mathematics, playwriting and drama, literature, psychology and journalism.  

“We all joke around and call it nerd camp,” said Sophie, who enrolled in a three-week, all-day architecture class this summer with 16 other middle-school students.

Regardless of what they call it, the students enjoy the Summer Program for several reasons, said Jayne Schaefer, assistant director of CTD. First, the program attracts high-achieving students from across the country and abroad. Most of the students enrolled have scored in the 95th percentile in math or language arts on a nationally normed achievement test and/or submitted an admissions portfolio consisting of school transcripts, teacher recommendations, writing samples and relevant work that shows the student is performing one and a half to two years above grade level.

“It is definitely for students who are at the very top of the educational spectrum,” Schaefer said. “And that is exciting socially for these students because they are with others like themselves who enjoy, reading, studying and learning about different subjects.”

The program is also stimulating from an academic point of view, Schaefer said.

Students have the opportunity to take subjects not normally available to them in their home schools because they are either not offered at all or offered much later in the students’ academic careers.

“For example, during the Summer Program, a seventh-grader could take an honors biology course,” Schaefer said. “Generally, that course wouldn’t be available until that student was in high school.”

One of the most popular courses for fourth- through sixth-graders is a computer programming course called Bits and Blocks, she continued. “That course always fills up because it’s not something the students necessarily get in school.”

Another aspect of the program the students enjoy is the opportunity to delve into a subject they are interested in, Schaefer said. Courses for fourth- through 12th-graders meet from 8:30 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. for three weeks.  

At first, Sophie’s mother, Lizzie Graham, said she had to persuade Sophie to enroll in the program because her daughter didn’t think she wanted to go to school in the summer. Mrs. Graham continued to push because her older daughter had had a good experience in the same program several years earlier.

Even though the courses run all day, the time goes by quickly because there are so many different activities, Sophie said. For example, in her architecture course, the students listened to lectures, built models, drew blueprints and went on several field trips. Already, Sophie said she is planning what she’d like to take next summer.

Lynne Parzen also had to do some gentle urging. She asked both her daughters, senior Kendra and eighth-grader Tamsin, to consider applying to the Summer Program. Like Mrs. Graham, Mrs. Parzen had another child who had enjoyed the program. “It’s a fabulous resource for Evanston residents,” she said.  

Kendra decided to take International Relations Honors, she said, because she was thinking about majoring in international relations in college and because that course wasn’t available at Evanston Township High School.

Tamsin decided to take a high school-level creative writing course because she had always been interested in writing and wanted to do more. 

What impressed both girls was the challenging workload and the quality instruction.

“Taking that course will really help me as I move on to college next year,” said Kendra, who had to write two research papers during the three-week session. “Even though we were taking this course for high school credit, the instructor told us he was giving us college-level texts and assignments.”

Like Sophie, Tamsin is already thinking about what class she might take next year. According to Schaefer, about 10 percent of the students attending the Summer Program are from Evanston.  

The courses available and duration of the classes depend on the student’s age, Schaefer said. The Leapfrog Program is for students who have completed pre-kindergarten through third grade. Students are grouped according to grade and can choose to enroll for one-, two- or three-week-long half-day sessions. This year an eight half-day sessions option was also offered to students in second and third grade.

Students who have completed grades four through six attend the Apogee program, while the Spectrum program is open to students completing grades seven through nine, and the Equinox program is open to students who have completed grades 10 through 12.

Most Apogee courses are enrichment based while Spectrum and Equinox courses are offered at the high school honors and Advanced Placement level. Since the center is accredited through the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA), students who successfully complete Spectrum and Equinox courses can earn one or two semesters of high school credit. All of these programs offer two three-week sessions. 

Any student who has completed grade four is able to choose to be a residential student and live in one of Northwestern’s residence halls, Schaefer said. This summer, Northwestern hosted students from 44 states and 14 foreign countries.

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The deadline to apply to all programs is mid-May. Admission information and application materials can be found at www.ctd.northwestern.edu. Information about the 2007 Summer Program will be available starting Jan. 2, 2007.