Seven Hills Charter having trouble gaining acceptance for College Week

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Nearly 600 Worcester students are looking for a college to attend this summer.

But only for one week.

The administration of Seven Hills Charter Public School is seeking a local college or university to host its annual College Week, a weeklong early introduction to college life for students in grades 1 through 8.

In what has become one of Seven Hills’ most anticipated events of the year, College Week gives students access to college classrooms and lecture halls, dining halls and a variety of on-campus activities, and allows those students to explore areas of study and speak with college students.

Seven Hills students, according to school officials, gain invaluable experience from College Week.

Courtesy Seven Hills Charter Public School

Seven Hills students, according to school officials, gain invaluable experience from College Week.

“Too many of our students say, ‘I wish I could go to college.’ We encourage them to consider college more of a reality rather than a dream,” fourth-grade science and math teacher Brennan Green said. “College Week helps us achieve that. Instead of hoping they can go to college, our curriculum for the year is based on the idea that they will go to college.”

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According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Education, nearly 51 percent of Seven Hills students are economically disadvantaged. Seventy-two percent are considered high-need. The student-to-teacher ratio is 13:1, below the state average.

Seven Hills Charter Superintendent Krista Piazza said, “For a lot of our students, [College Week is] the first time they set foot on a college campus and it helps introduce them to the opportunities out there that they can be part of.

seven hills_charter“It’s about building this whole line of vision for the future and broadening their perspective of what opportunities are available to them,” Piazza said.

Entering its planned sixth year, College Week is on the verge of coming to an abrupt end.

“As we begin the planning process for next year we have not been able to find a college to host us. We have been turned down by everyone; nobody will agree to host us. At first we were feeling disappointed, but now we are starting to panic,” Green, a 2012 graduate of Worcester State University, said.

Seven Hills planned to schedule the next College Week from Aug. 2-5, but would be flexible with the dates if a college could accommodate them on alternative days.

In previous years, College Week has been hosted by Worcester State University, Assumption College, and twice at Holy Cross, Seven Hills officials said.

Last year, College Week was hosted by Becker College at its Worcester campus on Sever Street. The week was filled with Becker students sharing their experiences of studying in their majors, what careers they may pursue with their degrees, and working with Seven Hills students on projects, labs and activities.

Becker College played host to College Week in 2015.

Courtesy Seven Hills Charter Public School

Becker College played host to College Week in 2015.

At Becker, the students covered topics that included gaming, criminology, nursing, veterinary science, exercise science, physics, biology and chemistry.

According to Becker College Marketing and Communications Chief Janet Davenport, “Last year was a wonderful experience. We really value the relationship we have with the Seven Hills Charter School.”

She added, “Last year we were able to accommodate Seven Hills, but this year we were unable to because some of our own summer programs were extended. It was unfeasible for us to do it this year with our extended schedule combined with other events and getting ready for incoming returning students.”

“We are hoping we can make the facilities available to [Seven Hills] in the future,” Davenport said.

Seven Hills said it has also reached out to its previous hosts, and approached Clark University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Services and Quinsigamond Community College to no avail.

Jane Salerno, Clark University spokesman, was unable to reach Clark administration for comment.

Salerno noted Clark is hosting three weeks of the Worcester Police Department Gang Camp, the Main Idea arts camp, the Bruce Wells Scholars program for five weeks, and pre-orientation programs.

Piazza said the institutions have claimed they didn’t have the space to accommodate the students or had scheduling conflicts.

“Worcester State University has had to turn a number of groups away this summer who sought to hold their events on our campus, due to renovations in the Student Center,” campus spokeswoman Renae Lias Claffey said in a statement.

Holy Cross Media Relations Manager Jessica Kennedy told the Sun in an email, “After reaching out to a few people on campus, it seems that Holy Cross is not participating in College Week this year; additionally, we also do not have anyone on campus available for commentary on College Week.”

College Week has been funded by the host college as an in-kind donation.

“Whatever they’re willing to provide, we are grateful for it,” Piazza said. “Whatever they can’t, we figure out a way to fund what we need to. Most of the cost to the host college is just donating the space.”

College students also participate with the Seven Hills gang.

Courtesy Seven Hills Charter Public School

College students also participate with the Seven Hills gang.

In addition to paying to transport Seven Hills students to the college each morning, school material and equipment costs, and some food costs, Seven Hills also hires college students to work with the younger children.

“It’s an opportunity for the college students to have a job, and to share what they’re learning in school with our students. It’s an opportunity for the college students to shine, so it’s a win-win as far as that goes,” Piazza said.

College Week caps off with a Family Day for students to show their family members some of the work they did during their week “in college,” and to enjoy a picnic.

Seven Hills students wear a uniform to school. However, during College Week, they’re allowed to wear college apparel as an alternative.

Green said, “The majority of our students will likely go to college in Worcester. For the kids that have had this experience, if you ask them where they’re going to school, they’ll say ‘I’m going to Holy Cross,’ or ‘I’m going to Becker and I want to be in their video game program,’ because they remember that experience.”

The Gage Street school serves mostly poor, high-needs students.

Patrick Sargent / For Worcester Sun

The Gage Street school serves mostly poor, high-needs students.

On Friday, May 20, Seven Hills administration including Piazza met with partners Worcester Think Tank, a hands-on educational center providing opportunities in science, arts and technology, and Technocopia, a co-working space that provides tools and equipment for on-site youth programs, to determine if they could collectively come up with a plan to run College Week collaboratively.

Piazza said the meeting resulted in great ideas for collaboration, but much of the space at Technocopia is off limits to students who are under 18.

Piazza said Seven Hills has a planning meeting coming up Friday, May 27, with parents and staff members to brainstorm for alternative ideas to ensure College Week continues.

“We’re going to all get together and figure it out all out,” Piazza said.

“We need College Week. Without it, it’s tough to anchor the other expectations and initiatives we have in school. We tie a lot of it back to College Week. It’s always made an enormous impact on our students. Students are motivated, and for the first time talking about college has become a normal conversation.”

Seven Hills Charter, founded in 1996, is at 51 Gage St., Worcester. It currently has 690 students in kindergarten through Grade 8.

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