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Students from across West Virginia attend Shepherd's Gateway Academy

ISSUED: 26 June 2012
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
(Students from across West Virginia attend Shepherd's Gateway Academy)

Shepherdstown, WV--Shepherd University's Washington Gateway Academy recently hosted 56 rising eighth-graders from across West Virginia. The one-week residential, pre-college program is designed to encourage students to think about, plan, and prepare for college.

Started in 1991, the program began when a group of legislators and officials at Shepherd were strategizing ways to use Shepherd's close proximity to the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metro area and also develop a program to prepare students for college. The Washington Gateway Academy is funded by the West Virginia legislature, which covers the cost of counselors, instructors, and field trips, allowing students to attend at no cost. When it was founded, the program was the first of its kind in the state.

Each year, Shepherd graduates or current students serve as counselors for the group. Students are taught by seasoned veterans of the Gateway Academy including Dr. Ed Snyder, chair of the Institute for Environmental Studies at Shepherd and distinguished professor of environmental studies, who teaches study skills and science; Dr. Thomas Segar, vice president for student affairs at Shepherd who teaches social justice; and Dr. Jason Best, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Shepherd and academic coordinator; and Jamie Martino, who teaches college prep, and Richard McDonald, who teaches mathematics.

Topics include social justice, mathematics, science, career planning, study skills, and community service activities.

Shepherd's Office of Student Community Services and Service Learning coordinated five service activities for the campers, including writing words of encouragement on a sheet for the Children's Home Society youth shelter; compassion training with the executive director from A Special Space, a new autism child care center that is opening in Charles Town; putting together Hero Packs for children in Jefferson and Berkeley counties whose parents or siblings are deployed; making dog toys for the humane society; and making pillows for the Infusion Clinic at Robinwood Medical Center.

During their seven-day stay at Shepherd's campus, two days are filled with field trips to the nation's capital where students visit the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum. The group learned about John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry, traveled to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and ended the day at a Frederick Keys baseball game.

Best said that the field trips allow them to actively use the skills they're learning by giving them target activities and showing them how to decipher between what is useful information and what isn't. "It's all about them being engaged and a part of their classroom," Best said.

They understand the importance of being here," Best said. "They have a desire to be the best at what they do, in West Virginia and beyond. Through their efforts, they take their first steps into a larger world. They now know that to achieve their desired occupation, they must believe in their own education."

According to Dr. John Adams, director of the Washington Gateway program, the program is unique because it allows students to stay on a college campus and interact with professors and instructors as well as experience Washington, D.C.

"We're looking for the diamond in the rough," Adams said. "That kid who we know has the potential to do better in school and needs that little bit of a boost to get things on track. The classes are more about teaching people skills to perform better," Adams said.

The academy's results are shown in feedback from parents who each year tell Adams that they've seen an improvement in their child's grades. In its 22-year existence, more than 2,000 students have attended.

According to Carol Boyd, program coordinator for the academy, the program, which is marketed as an academic program designed to help students prepare for college, attracts 250-350 applicants each year through informational brochures that are sent to all middle schools across West Virginia.

Emily Morris, counseling coordinator for Gateway, has worked with the program for the past eight years and said that she notices a change in the students between the time they arrive on campus and midweek.

"When they come in they're really shy and unsure of what's going on," said Morris. "By the mid-part of the week they've bonded and made friends with the rest of their group, and you really see their own personalities come out and you see the ones who step up and reach out to those who need a little extra help."

"The stuff they do in the math and science classes help them take ownership of their learning, and they have a much higher level of confidence in their own abilities," said Morris. “They're given challenging things to do."

A Facebook page is set up for former Gateway students, counselors, and parents to follow along with their students activities while at the program at https://www.facebook.com/Washington.Gateway.

A Gateway Academy Scholarship fund was established with the Shepherd University Foundation in 2010 to be awarded to a former Gateway student who attends Shepherd.

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Gateway Academy 2012

Gateway Academy students participate in a scavenger hunt in Harpers Ferry.

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