Preparing for college and taking the ACT is a rite of passage for Nebraska high school students.
However, college prep can sometimes be seen as boring, cumbersome or confusing. Not all students receive the attention or insider knowledge necessary to confidently take the next steps into college, including taking the ACT, which plays an important role in college admission and scholarship decisions.
To address this issue, the University Honors Program has partnered with Beyond School Bells, Nebraska Admissions and OnToCollege founder John Baylor to develop a week-long summer college and ACT prep course called ACTivate: College Success Boot Camp for rising high school sophomores and juniors who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
ACTivate was piloted remotely in Grand Island Public Schools during the week of July 27. Tawana Grover, Grand Island public school superintendent, asked the Honors Program to create a program that could help her students prepare for the ACT while also finding mentors and role models. If the program is successful, it will expand to schools across Lincoln, Omaha and greater Nebraska.
“ACTivate gives us a chance to utilize the fun of competition to help students understand the importance of college preparation, focusing on ACT prep as well as goal-setting and other future thinking activities.” said program facilitator Shannon Mangram, coordinator of community engagement, retention and recruitment in the University Honors Program.
The ACTivate curriculum was developed by Honors students earlier in the summer via an online “design intensive” process sponsored by Beyond School Bells. While developing a curriculum during a pandemic came with its own set of challenges, Salman Djingueinabaye, a junior Honors student majoring in computer science, found that process rewarding in its own right.
“The various challenges associated with designing an enjoyable, educational, and completely digital camp made the curriculum design process very enriching. I learned a great deal about engaging students in ways that will encourage them to seek out the opportunities and resources around them,” Djingueinabaye said.
Now, Honors students are implementing the lessons they’ve created. The goal is to make preparing for college and the ACT enjoyable by implementing a week-long competition. The week culminates with the victorious high school team winning a special gift box from Admissions and a personalized greeting from the Honors Program Director.
To the high school students participating in the program, one of the greatest benefits of the experience so far has been the supportive environment fostered by the Honors student facilitators.
“I like the positivity that goes around in the group,” said Misa Kori, a junior at Grand Island Senior High. “Even though we might get something wrong, we are learning ways to find the right answer.”
In addition to instilling confidence in current high school students, the ACTivate program serves as a bridge to the Grand Island community from UNL and from the Honors Program.
“Many students in the Honors Program apply because it was encouraged by their parents or because they knew someone else who participated. For low-income students, though, making the connection to apply for Honors isn’t always as obvious. We often hear from students that they wish they’d have known about the Honors Program sooner,” said Mangram. “Hopefully ACTivate encourages the high school participants — if they don’t already — to think of themselves as the Honors students that we know they’re capable of being.”
According to Mangram, the ACTivate program would not have been nearly so successful if not for the collaborations that made it possible.
“There has been so much work poured into this program by many different people, including Honors students, community members and staff. When I first imagined this program, I didn’t know that it would turn into such an inspiring, collaborative effort. Thankfully, we have amazing partners who agreed on the value of a program like ACTivate, and were willing to dedicate time and resources to its creation and implementation. In the end, it has turned out even better than I imagined it,” she said.