Making Connections Through Exposures: The Scholar Coach Perspective

by Alicia B. Johnston, AmeriCorps Scholar Coach

When most people think of AmeriCorps volunteers, they probably don't imagine evenings at the opera, musical matinées, and trips across the country to Washington, D.C. and New York City. These opportunities have been a regular part of my service as an AmeriCorps Scholar Coach with the Schuler Scholar Program. As Rob wrote recently ("Gaining Cultural Capital for College Success through Exposure", 11/26/12), Schuler's exposure program is an integral piece of preparing our scholars for success at highly selective colleges and universities. Over the course of their four years in the program, Scholars will attend a minimum of 12 exposures covering theater, opera, museums, civic engagement, and more. As the name implies, an exposure is more than just a field trip: it is a thoughtfully planned event that encourages scholars to think critically about an experience.

Scholars from Waukegan, Warren Township, Round Lake, and Maine East High Schools with AmeriCorps Scholar Coaches on a Lincoln Assassination Guided Tour during the Washington, D.C. Mega-Exposure (June 2012)

Scholar Coaches (SCs) usually plan exposures and have a great deal of flexibility in addressing scholars' interests, pursuing their own passions, and fulfilling the mission of the exposure program. In addition to core exposures, which all scholars in a class attend, like The Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet and Carmen at the Florentine Opera, I have led several mini-exposures. Mini-exposures provide an opportunity for SCs to address an interest or passion with a small group of scholars. Last year, I taught a junior seminar on life histories and took the seven juniors in the group to visit the Chicago History Museum's research library, where we read transcripts from the Studs Terkel collection and listened to interviews from the Teen Chicago Oral History Project (everyone's favorite was the interview with Kanye West). In the summer, I worked with two other SCs to lead a mega-exposure with nine scholars to Washington, D.C., where we spent five days exploring politics and culture in our nation's capital. Each of these exposures combined a personal passion with a topic that scholars had studied in school, discussed during Schuler programming, or experienced personally through internships and volunteer work.

While the shows are amazing and the museum exhibits fascinating, my favorite part of an exposure is the conversation. We often plan a meal where the cuisine adds another element of cultural exposure--from Vietnamese hot pot to Ethiopian dishes served over injera--and discussion evolves organically. Scholars, SCs, and Schuler staff share opinions and questions about the exposure.  If we are lucky, the scholars will also have the chance to hear from experts like cast members from a play, a research librarian from the museum, or a professor with expertise in the field. Scholars are not just participants in the discussion; they are leaders whose questions drive the conversation and whose comments are peppered with snapshots of past experiences and classroom discussions.

Waukegan High School Scholars at the University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art, a mini-exposure followed by lunch at Thai 55 in Hyde Park

 As reading tutors, SCs talk about making connections as a way of thinking about text. Exposures offer students an opportunity to connect what they see to books, movies, social issues, personal experiences, and more. Scholars gain confidence sharing their opinions in a respectful, intellectual environment during exposures. This experience translates to thoughtful, self-assured participation in classes at summer college programs (after sophomore and junior year) and eventually in college.

The exchange of ideas continues long after the exposure as scholars share their experiences with each other through pictures and lunch conversations in the Schuler resource room. Excitement for future exposures builds as seniors tell sophomores about a heart-wrenching play they saw or a cool Indian dance performance. Scholars love to share these experiences with others--Kiara, a junior scholar at Waukegan High School, wrote the following in a reflection on her favorite moment from her summer college program:

"During my sophomore year, I attended an exposure with Schuler where I learned to tango. While standing in the pounding rain, I decided it might be fun to teach my friends how to do so, as well! They all eagerly listened as I instructed the movements and soon after, we were doing the tango in the middle of the street while the rain poured on our bodies! We must have looked incredibly foolish, but it was worth it."

The scholars’ enthusiasm and desire to learn about a wide range of cultural, social, and civic issues is infectious. As a Scholar Coach, it’s tempting to plan exposures every weekend to address scholars’ boundless curiosity and excitement. Not every high school student would jump at the chance to go ballroom dancing, but such unique opportunities offered by Schuler's exposure program encourage scholars to approach new experiences with a positive attitude and an open mind--invaluable assets for future college graduates.

Warren Township High School scholars before the Florentine Opera's production of Carmen by Georges Bizet


Popular Posts