(MS)2: It's tough, it's intense and kids love it
As a child, Kristina Halona grew up without running water or electricity on a New Mexico Navajo reservation. But she had big dreams: inspired by the Air Force jets that raced over the desert landscape, she set her sights on the science of space exploration.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, Ms. Halona helps develop satellites as an aerospace engineer. It's a leap that was made possible, the young college graduate says, by spending her high school summers hard at work in classrooms thousands of miles from her Southwestern home.
Halona was in ninth grade when she first traveled to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. For a quarter-century now, the school's Math and Science for Minority Students (MS)2 program has brought public high school students from inner cities and reservations to this leafy campus just north of Boston. Over three consecutive summers, they pack in whole years' worth of courses like physics, calculus, and English giving kids a taste of college life while helping them develop the confidence and skills to succeed there.
Virtually all the program's graduates go on to college. And when alumni returned to campus this month to celebrate (MS)2's 25th anniversary, they came back as doctors, engineers, and other professionals.
Ted Sizer, a former Phillips Academy headmaster who helped launch (MS)2, says he couldn't have anticipated its success. Indeed, many alumni called it the best experience in their lives - their first chance to meet so many equally bright kids from similar backgrounds.
"Going to a place like that and learning opens yours eyes," says Halona, who graduated from the program in 1995.
Few though, ever claim it was easy.
At this academic boot camp, students spend five hours in class or labs and just as much time doing homework six days a week. They take more classes than other Phillips Academy summer-session students, and must get a higher minimum grade to pass.
Such rigor is no accident, says program director Temba Maqubela. He knows what it means to surmount a challenge: A youth apartheid leader in his native South Africa, he was forced to leave and arrived in the US homeless, eventually becoming a chemistry teacher at Phillips Academy. "We want them to walk onto a campus with confidence and feel they belong, that they want and deserve it all, not that they're being done a favor," he says.
In class, Mr. Maqubela gently throws chalk at students who fall asleep and admits to having given "the test from hell." After spending a half hour explaining their test answers on the board, several students moan when he tells the class to retake the test again that night.
Maqubela says he tries to teach them life skills less easy to learn than the periodical table, such as organizing their time, the loneliness of studying, and the discipline of learning by repetition. And at a weekly meeting, he reminds them that their presence is a privilege not a right. Some 200 students apply for the program, which is funded mostly by donations. Only 35 are accepted.