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IIC and Golden Apple Scholars, Bringing New Insights to the Classroom

July 30, 2010

Last Thursday I attended my first IIC event: the graduation ceremony of the 2010 Golden Apple Scholars Summer Institute. The Golden Apple Scholars Program is unique to Illinois, and now in it’s 25th year of grooming motivated young adults to become the outstanding teachers in high-need schools. Rigorous screening of applicants ensures that only the most motivated high school seniors interested in education gain admission.

As a multi-year commitment, the program captures students at one of the most formative periods of their education- the summers immediately before and after freshman year of college. The Summer Institute, hosted by DePaul University, aims to give Scholars a taste of teaching, to offer more sophisticated insight into the profession, to provide a network of support and encouragement, and to instill the motivation necessary to become and excel as an educator.
Where does Investing In Communities fit into all of this? Well, beyond generating funds for NGO’s, IIC also strives to generate engagement. Hence, last Thursday marked the completion of the IIC Student Engagement pilot program. Here’s how the pilot worked:

IIC gave $5,000 to the Golden Apple Scholars Program to be allocated by the Scholars to local NGOs. However, there were a few stipulations. The students had to decide on the allocations collaboratively as a group. Participating Scholars met weekly over the course of the program, and attended reflective seminars.

In order to allocate the funds judiciously, the scholars had to research local NGO’s and discern their mission, budget, and efficacy. They were thereby exposed to the complex social problems plaguing many of the communities they will ultimately teach in. You see, Scholars share not only a professional interest in education, but also a desire to serve in the disadvantaged communities where committed teachers are needed most.

As a natural outcome of this process, Scholars were forced to reflect upon the issues that the NGOs grapple with daily – substance abuse, crime, gang violence, familial strife, neighborhood instability, poverty, lack of opportunity, and resources. In all likelihood, these same issues will disproportionately impact the students of Golden Apple Scholars. As future teachers in high-need schools, it is not only beneficial for the Scholars to be exposed to these realities; it is imperative if they are to succeed as educators.

No classroom is a blank slate. Each child arrives in the morning with a unique history, different experiences and concerns, and a distinct frame of reference. These factors inevitably shape how any student responds to stimulus in the classroom. In order to reach students effectively, teachers must be able to perceive, in a meaningful way, where they are coming from- physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

As many Princeton AlumniCorps fellows can attest, engaging with social problems via local NGOs offers an on-the-ground perspective that hits much harder than academic discussion of an issue. Thus, the IIC Student Engagement pilot program functions almost like an abbreviated, education-specific version of the Project 55 Fellowship.

But what strikes me most about the IIC Student Engagement pilot is the way in which it turns philanthropy into a learning experience. It transforms philanthropy from a passive, impersonal act of writing a check to an active process of engagement with the local NGO sector- and hence, with the community. The IIC model (see my last post) has the potential to turn anyone with a real estate need into a philanthropist. If the pilot program is any indication, IIC may not only result in more of us investing in our communities, but engaging in them as well.

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