During her first summer as the executive director of University of North Georgia's (UNG) Oconee Campus, Dr. Cyndee Perdue Moore noticed the quiet, serene campus environment.
"I thought we should be doing something with the space in the summer," Moore said. She saw several signs in and around Watkinsville and Athens, Georgia, for camps focused on art, music, sports and more. "Some of those are expensive. Then I thought, 'We can offer an accessible and affordable experience to benefit middle school students here.'"
Thanks to a partnership with Clarke County School District, Moore will see her idea of a "more camp, less summer school" experience come to fruition in summer 2019.
The Nighthawks Student Opportunities for Accelerated Readiness (SOAR) program will run from June 10-28 with students at Athens Community Career Academy in the morning and UNG's Oconee Campus in the afternoon. The free six-hour program is designed to bridge the education gap for rising sixth- through eighth-grade students during the summer.
SOAR will target economically disadvantaged youth who are prospective first-generation college students. Most will come from the Athens-Clarke County area for two reasons: its proximity to the Oconee Campus and its high percentage of students who could benefit most from the program.
Clarke County School District Superintendent Dr. Demond Means agreed to partner with UNG after he heard Moore's proposal. In fact, he expanded her original concept to include the Athens Community Career Academy and his school system's transportation.
"In the morning, middle school students will work with local mentors and business leaders at the academy, and then they will board the Clarke County buses and be driven to UNG Oconee to work with us," Moore said.
Topics will include reading, writing, math, and science coupled with hands-on activities to reinforce the material, said Dr. Carly Womack-Wynne, professor of teacher education at UNG and program director of Nighthawks SOAR.
"Students remember and master lessons better with hands-on activities than simply hearing about it," she said.
Lessons will include proper study habits and life skills, and students will be exposed to college knowledge to help them get on the right track to enter the postsecondary arena. Moore said it is difficult to explain the importance and benefits of a college degree despite research showing high school graduates earn less money than those who attend a two- or four-year institution.
SOAR aims to introduce middle school students to higher education and unravel the mystery of the application process.
"If we have students here on campus and they know where the restrooms are and how to access the computer labs, it's not as formidable a task for them to go through the college admissions process when they become high school students," Moore said. "We want them to know that they are not only welcome here, but that they belong here."
The SOAR program will accept between 60 and 100 students in the first year. Students who want to enroll may contact their school counselors or contact Womack-Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org or Moore at email@example.com.