By Design: A Pre-College Program for High School Students

November 1, 2017

When it comes to the quality of care and supervision of our students, EXPLO at Yale is the standard-bearer for all pre-college programs. Because while we are a pre-college program, ours is thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of high school students.

One of the biggest concerns that we hear from parents whose children attended other summer programs is that there is too much free time and not enough structure and support.  Students are spending a lot of time wandering around the cities and towns where the programs are located, oftentimes late into the night.  Students are not well known by staff and can feel unconnected.

Many pre-college programs are designed off of the college model, with minor modifications — meaning that most other programs take something that works for 18- to 21-year-olds and suppose it will be a good match for 15- to 17-year-olds.

We believe that’s a backward way of designing a program.

Instead, we start by asking, “What do high school-aged students need to thrive?” and build our programs from there. This is the reason that EXPLO at Yale is often described as having the best student life program of any pre-college program. We don't treat high schoolers as if they are already in college.

We Don’t Cut Corners

Unlike many of our competitor programs, EXPLO has a 1:6 staff-to-student ratio. While they may boast “low staff-to-student ratios” of 1:12 or 1:14, many of those programs are counting non-residential staff. (We do not.) So if you were to look more closely at the actual breakdown of direct staff supervision at those programs, it can be much higher.  (We were shocked to learn that in one case the overnight ratio in the residence halls is 1:50).

We believe that a critically important aspect to our program is that each student is known by a group of adults.  Every student at EXPLO at Yale has a team of seven adults who directly know and support them.  This Team of Seven lives on campus and is deeply enmeshed in all aspects of the residential community. We believe that some of the most important learning happens outside of class and to make the most of a residential community, its members need to live as part of that community.

At EXPLO, we check in with our students several times throughout the day. We look them in the eye and have conversations with them, so we know how they are doing. Our residence hall staff members notes how each student is engaging with the program, so that we know if they are making friends, dealing with homesickness, and enjoying their classes. Advisors help students clarify their goals and values and encourages them to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that await them at EXPLO and at Yale.  

Our leadership also lives on campus for the duration of the program. It is a requirement of employment. Why? Simply because to be part of a residential community — to build it and nurture it — you must live within it.

Beyond the Gates: Practicing Agency

While we are committed to providing a developmentally age-appropriate program for our high school students, we also believe that they are capable of exercising their agency as young adults. It’s important that they practice making choices and work within the consequences — good and bad — of the choices they make.

But to practice making choices, we have to provide students with choices — and we do so in many frameworks. Yes, our students choose from more than 100 courses and workshops each session, but they also make choices about how to spend their independent time outside of the academic periods.

EXPLO at Yale is a place where students create their own clubs and societies around common intellectual and social interests. Where students can work out at a world-class athletic facility or take in an original Picasso during down time. 

There is also a moderate amount of free time when students can choose to hang out and explore museums, bookstores, and businesses surrounding campus. Or, they may choose to hang out with their friends at a local café or restaurant. But again, we create structure around these choices to keep the decision-making process within a safe and healthy framework. Students at EXPLO at Yale are given specific boundaries — we call it “In Bounds” — within which they can explore. And these boundaries are monitored by our staff. If a student is caught “out of bounds” they are removed from the program.

We also offer a tremendous number of activities throughout the afternoon, and many of our students take advantage of things like clubs, leagues, societies, or organized trips to interesting landmarks with staff members.

By 7:30 p.m., everyone is back within the gates of Old Campus, having checked in with their R.A. before evening programming begins.

Some cultures call this pastoral care. We call it common sense — and the right thing to do — and all families are guaranteed that their student is truly known and cared for as a member of the EXPLO community.

By Melissa Patricio

Tag: EXPLO at Yale

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