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Not an Average Summer Vacation: PEAK Scholars Expand their Horizons on the East Coast

Across the board, “summer slump” is not a problem for PEAK scholars. Two travelled eastward this summer to study, with the support of their PEAK mentors, Program Manager Anthony Bolden, and their Holy Trinity High School community.

Lorena outside the Blake Student Center
PEAK senior Lorena during her 5-week summer program at Northfield Mount Hermon school in Massachusetts

Lorena’s 5-week program at prestigious Massachusetts prep school Northfield Mount Hermon was, in a word, “unforgettable.” The 5-week psychology course she chose sparked a newfound fascination with the mind and the brain. “I totally changed my plan,” said Lorena. “Since seventh grade I wanted to be a pediatrician, and now I want to major in psychology and minor in Spanish. But it’s ok that I changed. I could change plans again, and that would be ok too.”

The course included a test every Saturday and multiple quizzes throughout the week. It was a big challenge for Lorena to make sure to study, prepare, and ask for help when she needed it. As a naturally bright student, Lorena could fly under the radar through much of grade school and high school, getting B’s and C’s without studying. It was the PEAK program as well as her participation in High Sight’s Project College that pushed Lorena to try going away this summer. After her experience at Northfield Mount Hermon, Lorena “realized if I want to get somewhere, I need to study and pay attention to details.”

Lorena’s favorite memory is one that is typical of many middle-class adolescences, but that Lorena nearly missed out on the opportunity to experience during high school: a night of stargazing in a field with friends after a full day of learning and enriching conversations.

The 5-week trip gave Lorena new insight on her college path. “I have always wanted to go to college out of state, but I wasn’t sure about it,” she said. “I worried I wouldn’t like the environment or I would miss home. This was a way for me to test it out before I commit to a college. And I definitely plan to apply out of state.”

Jocelyn and Kirti touring New York City before Jocelyn's 2-week summer program at New York Film Academy

PEAK mentor Kirti Patel went above and beyond this summer, not only researching programs and connecting her scholar Jocelyn (‘22) with a great summer opportunity (free to Jocelyn thanks to grants from Deloitte and the Crystal Charitable Fund), but also accompanying Jocelyn on her first ever airplane flight to New York for a two-week stay at New York Film Academy.

Jocelyn commutes two hours every day to Holy Trinity High School from the Back of the Yards neighborhood. She entered PEAK looking for something different than what she was finding in her neighborhood. Her first year in the PEAK program had already provided her with many opportunities to explore new places, skills, and ideas, but Kirti knew there was more to be done.

After noticing Jocelyn’s talent for visual storytelling on Instagram, Kirti knew that a photography camp would be the perfect way for Jocelyn to broaden her horizons this summer.

“My own kids, they went away every summer. It’s all about the exposure to different things -- they don’t know what they don’t know, so they need to get the experiences,” said Kirti.

From suggesting the program, through fine-tuning her application essay, to touring New York before the program and picking her up after, Kirti stood by Jocelyn through the whole process. It made an enormous difference to Jocelyn. “If Kirti hadn’t brought it up, I would never have thought of something like this at all,” she said.

Kirti was struck by many aspects of the experience that were new to Jocelyn. “I had no clue that she had never flown before, until we got to New York. It was a big step. Not all kids would have that courage and confidence,” Kirti observed. She also helped Jocelyn open her first bank account for the trip. It was eye-opening to Kirti to realize that students like Jocelyn often lack the opportunities and resources that had made it possible for Kirti’s own kids to figure out independently as teenagers how to do something like open a bank account.

Jocelyn settling into her dorm at New York Film Academy

Just as Kirti had hoped, the experience at New York Film Academy has been a great start toward providing Jocelyn some of those new life skills and experiences. “I had more independence and freedom than I ever had before -- navigating to classes and restaurants, seeing what the real world is like without my parents’ restrictions,” said Jocelyn. She said the toughest thing about the program was learning time-management -- it was a new experience to manage getting herself to classes on time and getting back on time from lunch with no hand-holding from teachers.

Jocelyn also gained more social skills from the experience. An assignment to photograph people on the street meant that she had to practice approaching strangers and, sometimes, having her requests for a photo rejected. That experience stuck with Jocelyn. “I approached police officers, soldiers, all kinds of people I saw on the street, to ask to take their picture. Some of them said no, but it was ok.”

Jocelyn’s favorite part of the experience, though, was “gathering with my dorm-mates from London, Las Vegas, South Korea, China, Canada. I still keep in touch with most of them on a group chat.” She said it felt like the first time that she was with a peer group that truly respected her and her contributions.

Jocelyn was surprised that her mom and her sisters actually encouraged her to go -- she is used to them wanting her close by. Kirti was sure to give Jocelyn’s mother credit for the support, saying, “I can tell she understands the benefits Jocelyn gets from PEAK.”

Jocelyn and Kirti have grown closer this summer and agree that they would highly recommend the experience of identifying and pursuing a summer opportunity to other mentors and scholars. As Jocelyn put it, “seize opportunities that come your way. You might not get another chance.”


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