I am a teacher in the Cambridge Public School system. Last May, an interesting email popped up in the "news" mail folder, asking for teachers to apply for a fellowship to study at Harvard Summer School. I downloaded that application within seconds of reading the message.
Now you're probably wondering why anyone in their right mind would put themselves through summer school when they have the entire summer at their leisure, including the kids at day care. Someone in their right mind would have ignored that message. I've never been in my right mind when it comes to school. I have a couple of advanced degrees. I like school and find I miss taking the classes.
Plus, as already mentioned, I am a public school teacher. As such, I am required to commit to a certain number of professional development training hours over the course of five years. I happen to have a few different certifications (areas of expertise), so my hour requirement is a bit higher than many I work with. By taking a few graduate courses, I will fulfill these requirements.
To get the fellowship, I needed to take Strategies for Teaching Writing, a writing workshop and teaching practicum. I could also take an elective, which for me was what I really wanted to take.
What I Got
I was accepted to the fellowship and signed up for my elective. My classes met twice a week, luckily for my schedule I had one a day, Monday through Thursday.
I worked hard, very hard. My dear friend and fellow epinioner, AZielinski, would ask me from time to time why I was getting so stressed out and nervous about my exams and essays. I was taking the course work very seriously.
I got exactly what I expected, a good, high quality education in 7-1/2 weeks. I thought the writing course would be a breeze. I thought I was a good writer, gauging my ability to write on my success here at Epinions. Boy, did I have the shock of my life the first day at Summer School. In the writing seminar sat ten other teachers. One is the foremost authority on terrorism writing, one is the editor of a Harvard publication who has interviewed many Nobel prize winning recipients, another teaches and publishes at the Harvard Medical School and the teacher is the acting Director of the Writing Program at Harvard and a published author. Once I got over my own feelings of inadequacy and delved into the course material, I found I couldn't write. For the entire course, I wrote, rewrote, revised, rewrote, etc. I'm better at essay writing now, but really wish I could somehow continue this study, I feel as thought I just tapped some of my potential.
The elective class I took was the History of the Architecture of Boston. No, there weren't any famous people in the class, as a matter of fact, this class was so diversified, it really made me feel part of the university culture. The work, though, was tough. Again, in the time period, I found that I worked extremely hard and learned quite a bit. I had never taken an art history course in any of my other educational opportunities and it was a bit nerve wracking to memorize buildings, architects, dates, addresses,styles for the quizes we had.
The Big Deal
So, you're wondering, what is so great about Harvard Summer School? Well, first of all, it is open to anyone in the world, and they all come. In my history class, there were students from Miami, Chicago, Indonesia, Germany.
The entire university is open to the students. With my student identification card, I was able to go into any library and borrow, a privilege. I was assigned an email account and could drop in any computer lab on campus and use any of the iMac's set up throughout every building. During the academic year, students who are not enrolled in the university may take similar courses at the Extension School and are only given permission to borrow books from a few libraries and are not given email addresses.
The Summer School is very well organized for the influx of students. Each weekend, there were trips and educational experiences organized. The trips were not expensive, usually costing $20. The trips were to places such as Newport, RI; Maine, Cape Cod/Martha's Vineyard, Dartmouth College, Habitat For Humanity work, teen work, community service work. Every night there was a free movie somewhere on campus.
I was so excited to go to school each morning. Sure, there were times I just wanted to sleep in, get back on line and do my work here at Epinions, read a book. Then, as soon as I parked my car, entered the campus and took my seat, I remembered how nice it was to be learning something new. I found the other students to be kind, friendly and respectful. In the history class I was with people aged 14 through 75. We traipsed throughout Boston on field trips, sweltering in the recent heat waves here in the Northeast.
Now, How Old Was Everyone?
Yes, you read that right. There were 14 year olds in my class. Why? They really want to get into a good school and figure that if they get a few courses at Harvard Summer School under their belt, instead of attending a summer camp, then their chances of getting into a good college are better. I met a few 17 year olds who wanted to get a feel for the area before they decided which schools to apply to. I met a few older people who have full-time jobs but wanted to get some cocktail hour conversations.
I did wonder who was watching all of the students in the dormatories and was assured that although no one really knew where they were at all times, most of the younger students we scared to be out alone or late at night because Cambridge is a city and it is dangerous. Some of the older students I met were taking advantage of living at Harkness Commons, the graduate student housing built by Walter Gropius/TAC, while studying for their architecture/design degree.
Most of the students I met felt like they were investing in their futures. Their coursework would transfer to any other academic institution, as long as they received a B or better. In both classes, I don't think a student received less than a B and the work produced deserved the grades.
I was required to write essays for each class and I feel that the comments and grades were fair, direct and helpful.
Were my eyes dazzled by the fact that it was Harvard and I was attending for free? Maybe. Although not inexpensive, my tuition cost over $3,000. and it costs almost $6,000. to live in the dorms and take two classes, I really thought the program was intense and worth the effort.
If this fellowship were given at either Boston University, Boston College, MIT or Northeastern University, I would have signed up there in a minute as well. For parents and students who are mature, dedicated (you have to attend all classes, they take attendance and anyone missing more than two classes is automatically flunked) this is a wonderful opportunity to taste college life. For those who find themselves with a bit of time in the summer, this is an educational opportunity.
You can visit the Harvard web site at www.harvard.edu. Look into the course catalog to see what will be offered for next year.
Oh, and how do I think I did. I'm going to be tickled pink if I get two B+'s. Funny, the grades aren't as important to me now. There was a time when I would have killed myself to get the A. I did work very hard, though.
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