Alexander Morris-Wood engages with Summer for Success students.
For three weeks each summer, the Beacon College campus buzzes with energy, excitement, and youthful sounds as high schoolers who learn differently participating in the college’s Summer for Success program discover what it takes to be a successful collegian in and out of the classroom.
Students in the 2020 edition of Summer for Success — the fifth session of the program that offers college-bound rising high school juniors and seniors an immersive experience that builds independent living skills and offers actionable learning strategies — filled rooms as usual with the usual abundant energy, excitement, and sounds.
Even if no students were on campus.
With the coronavirus pandemic restricting travel and limiting gatherings, Summer for Success welcomed 75 students from the United States and Barbados to an immersive virtual experience.
Rather than responding to the reveille of the school bell, Summer for Success days began with a wave of faces flooding the computer screen via Zoom. Students shared greetings, salutations, jokes, dramatic waves, and the occasional “Happy birthday.”
“This ‘call to order’ was intentionally planned each morning, prior to the start of the academic component of the program,” said Alexander Morris-Wood, director of transition services and outreach at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. “The daily routine assured students were optimally ready for learning. It is essential that students understand the day’s activities and expectations.”
It also provided an avenue for Morris-Wood to address any technology-related issues, struggles, or other barriers to learning that could torpedo a successful day for every student.
The daily sessions began at noon to accommodate student participants in different time zones. Days concluded at 8 p.m.
Students engaged in college-prep courses such as Writing Strategies for College, Math Strategies for College, College Readiness 101, and College Planning during COVID-19.
Students also actively honed independent living skills through such classes as Financial Management & Literacy, Fundamentals of Cooking & Planning, At-Home Workouts and Emotional Self-care & Wellbeing. Classes were conducted live and focused on active participation.
Other courses included: Disney History and Fanfare, Animals in the Spotlight, History on Stage and the Science & Study of Human Behavior.
Realizing the importance of social growth in concert with academic success, the virtual program from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. set aside time for students to engage in four social clubs that were created based on student enrollment survey responses: Esports, Virtual Board Games, Performing Arts and Film and Music. Students met with their club leaders and fellow students exploring talents, showcasing their strengths, and having fun with their peers.
Other social engagement included interactive program competitions, trivia night, and regional social gatherings.
“What distinguishes Beacon’s virtual high school summer program from other programs, is the intentional focus on each student’s growth and success through unique and carefully designed academic courses,” said Dale Herold, vice president of admissions and enrollment management at Beacon, America’s first accredited baccalaureate school dedicated to educating primarily neurodiverse students. “Short class blocks maximize attention and provide multi-modal learning through lectures, visual depictions, and discussions.”
Not that parents are removed from the Summer for Success equation.
Parents can participate in three workshops. The program’s personalized, two-track approach helps identify the “why” behind any student difficulties and provides individual strategies for overcoming academic and personal challenges, Herold said.
For students like May, 18, from Florida, who is attending Ohio State in the fall, the virtual experience paid real-world dividends.
“I proved to myself that I could do it,” she said.