Where are the Freshman Commons? Can you tell me where the A-Hallway is? Is there a secret tunnel connecting the school to the Terry Center? These are just a few of the many questions asked by incoming freshman, but not by the middle school boys who attended the Higher Achievement Program during the previous summer. The boys, already familiar with the school and some of the teachers, did not have the same wide-eyed, frantic expression that the other freshman had on that nerve-wracking first day of school.
The Higher Achievement Program (HAP) is held during the summer on the Jesuit campus. It features 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys from different schools around the Dallas area that feed into Jesuit and other high schools nearby. This annual program helps the middle school students become familiar with the school through different academic courses.
Mr. Marr explained the purpose of the program, describing it as “designed to mirror the same experience as a high school student enrolled at Jesuit. The activities are based around the Profile of the Jesuit Graduate and seek to enhance the participant’s knowledge of not only the subject matter but also to encourage them to be a better contributor to society. We definitely want to strengthen math, science, and English skills, but not without providing an understanding of the power of an education and being a responsible man of action.” He commented on the types of activities that the boys do and the courses that are offered, describing that “all of the courses are ‘taught’ using kinesthetic and visual teaching styles. It is very ‘hands-on and look at this’ learning.” The program brings the boys closer together while teaching them academic lessons and topics without the use of tests and quizzes.
Jesuit’s faculty leads the lessons and courses taken during the summer; one of the many teachers who contributes their time to helping the middle school students is Mr. Bub ’10. He discussed what the program does for the young boys and how the teachers achieve that goal, and that it “is not only to give students an opportunity to continue learning in the summertime but also to teach them about Ignatian values so that they can make those values a part of their life. We accomplish that partly through weekly prayer services in which the teachers…share reflections with the students on faith, prayer, virtue, and other similar topics.” The boys are taught the core subjects similar to high school courses, but are also given time to reflect on their daily lives in prayer.
The program mirrors the prayer services and reflection periods of time offered to the Jesuit students during the school year. Mr. Bub acknowledged this and other benefits of attending the HAP program, saying that “it’s an academic program designed for students who might not otherwise be able to attend one. Engaging with the school material over the summer is a really essential way to make sure that the knowledge they’ve gained over the past year stays with them, and it can really give them a leg up as they get ready for high school.” The program helps the students become comfortable and familiar with Jesuit while also teaching them many parts of a regular high school curriculum without tests or quizzes. The boys are prevented from having stress over homework assignments and learn new topics through fun activities inside and outside the classroom.
When the summer comes to a close, and the program draws ever so closer to the end, the boys are asked questions and reflect on the experiences they have gone through with each other. Mr. Marr has helped lead the HAP program and has had the chance to see the differences in the students from when they first arrived to when they left the doors of the school at the end of the summer. He described the differences in the boys saying, “the obvious changes are seen in two areas. First, the students are surprised at the new knowledge that they have obtained without the presence of tests, homework, and grades. I think that students too often judge what they’ve learned by the grade on the test or the report card. The second thing that I’ve noticed is that the students have come to realize that the local high school- or school that their primary school feeds into- is not the only high school option out there for them.” These students can understand what high school is like and are allowed to explore their interests in other high schools through the program.
The middle school boys who attend the HAP program are given the chance to experience what it feels like to be a Jesuit high school student before their freshman year. The program is one of the many ways to explore and know even more about the school and all that it has to offer to the students during the school year. Mr. Marr provided a few reasons on why boys sign up for this opportunity and what boys who are attending the program for the first time might expect to do, saying that “participants make new friends, explore their potential impact on their community, pray and reflect together, learn in an environment free of grades, homework, and tests, improve problem-solving skills, gain exposure to new teaching styles, challenged to respect what makes us the same and what makes us all different, and a really fun way to spend the summer. And the free lunch everyday is popular, too.”
So come out this summer and sign-up to attend the Higher Achievement Program to make new friends, learn what it means to be a Jesuit student, and just have fun.
Thanks to Mr. Marr for the photographs.