Being an alumnus of the program, my view of the organizational culture has changed a lot working within the organization rather than being the product of the program. Being a nonprofit college preparatory program, the organization strives for access and success for their scholars. This funnels in expectations for the scholars to always do their best and hold themselves accountable for achieving their highest grades, scores, and gaining access to highly ranked institutions. Though these expectations are very powerful and motivate the scholars and staff to strive for excellence, given the circumstances of the present-day world, meeting these standards has become much more difficult.
In one of the very first faculty meetings, we all spoke about the importance of being compassionate and understanding towards the scholars and their transition to remote learning and the high levels of stress surrounding COVID-19. The summer institute portion of this program is usually held over a 6 week period where the scholars are on a college campus and get to interact with one another and their faculty and staff every day. No longer being able to provide this in-person experience, the staff tried to cultivate ways in which the high standards and motivating expectations can still be met while being aware and compassionate towards the new standards of living everyone is experiencing. This conversation and brainstorming session definitely focused on the wellbeing of the scholars and as a team of all the administrators, teachers, and student staff, we compiled documents of notes and spent numerous hours on zoom calls to ensure that we were adjusting the changing program to the scholars.
Though this was a really progressive start and made me, as an intern, feel not only included in the decisions and conversations but also gave me hope that there was a good chance that the scholars will still have a productive and enjoyable summer; but the value of success and access really took over, shortly after. Over time, the formulating schedule began to reflect the length and difficulty of the regular in-person summer institute. Though the program is intended to be challenging and to really hone positive improvements for the scholars, the compassion for the current situation was a little lost along the way. Though the summer institute portion has not yet begun, and we are still planning, I hope that the high achieving values of the program don’t overpower the necessary care, support, and empathy for the scholars we are serving.