College hosts weekend for urban high school

by Julia Hecht | 10/30/06 6:00am

Fifteen sophomores from Charlestown High School in Boston participated in Dartmouth's North Country Weekend, a program that exposes urban youth to the outdoors and a rural environment this weekend.

This year, 11 Dartmouth student volunteers and four teachers from Charlestown were involved in the program, which is designed to target sophomores in high school who show academic potential.

"The main mission of the program is to inspire and encourage the students to look into higher education, even though Dartmouth is not necessarily a reality for them," Kyle Polite, community programs adviser for the Tucker Foundation, said. "All of these kids have the potential to attend college and so can definitely be considered college-bound."

According to Polite, the weekend's events encouraged all the participants to work together and gain insight from one another. Students ate meals in the dining halls, attended Dartmouth classes, participated in a scavenger hunt around campus, engaged in a panel dinner discussion with the Afro-American Society at Cutter-Shabazz, went to an a capella and dance performance, and visited the Montshire Museum. Other scheduled activities, like navigating the ropes course and climbing Gile Mountain were cancelled due to the rain. Students visited the climbing gym and played basketball instead.

Volunteer guest speakers shared motivational stories and encouraged the group to seek out answers to questions about school and the future.

The North Country Weekend focuses on exposing the Charlestown students to how college can be a positive path for them and how they can get there. Polite explained that the weekend also serves as a great opportunity for the high school students to see the world outside of Boston, which many have not, and to develop positive relationships with college students.

This weekend marked the 24th year of the semi-annual event. Each Fall and Spring term, the Charlestown students come to Dartmouth to enjoy a weekend of leadership-building outdoor activities while meeting college students from a wide variety of campus groups. While high school sophomores came this weekend, freshmen will come in the spring.

This year's chairs, Blair Burgreen '07 and Nora Johnson '07, both became involved with NCW as freshmen.

"For me, NCW is an amazing way to still feel that I am making an impact and giving back to the greater community," Johnson said.

Burgreen and Johnson explained that the Dartmouth volunteers act as resources for the Charlestown students and not as disciplinarians.

"Most of the most meaningful conversations, and what will stick with the kids the most, are the ones you have just getting to know them and they with you," Johnson said. "We are really there to be positive role models, and to let them see what college can be like, just through who we are," she said.

According to Burgreen, the time commitment expected of Dartmouth student mentors is relatively low. Mentors are expected to participate during the entire weekend as well as attend several planning and reflection meetings.

"Besides the planning beforehand, most of the time commitment is the weekend itself: the students arrive around noon on Friday and leave Sunday early afternoon," Burgreen said. "The hours usually come out just about even as someone who volunteers the entire term, we just have it condensed into one weekend."

According to Bugreen, the goals of the program have evolved over the past few years, mostly due to the former chair, Elise Robinson '05.

"Before her, it used to pretty much be a bunch of 'outdoorsy' Dartmouth students taking inner city Boston youth, literally of almost any age, into the woods for a weekend," Burgreen said. "The program still implements the outdoors, hiking [and] ropes course aspect of the original program because they're still very worthwhile activities, but it's much more about getting the students interested in higher education," she said.