On Tuesday April 11, the NHIOP auditorium was transformed into a display of poster boards, poems, slideshows, and artwork for the Access Academy Spring Showcase. Access Academy is an after school program aiming to engage immigrant, refugee, and otherwise underrepresented high school students in the Manchester area. At the Spring Showcase, each student has the opportunity to share what they learned through their program. This year, the high school students choose between 7 courses: Students in Action, Career and College Exploration, Environmental Studies, Computer Literacy, College Admissions, Creative Writing, and Humanities After School.
The entire room was packed with friends, family members, teachers, mentors, reporters, and community members. The evening included two poster sessions, a presentation by each program, and a panel discussion with students, volunteers, and coordinators.
As the presentations went on, it became clear that each program had something unique to offer for students, and each student had something unique to bring to their program. Students in the College Admissions program and the College and Career Exploration program shared their dreams with the crowd. Many students shared a dream of going to college. Some students held a common dream of helping people by becoming a nurse or a doctor. One student went on to say their dream was to "save people's lives."
During the panel discussion, students shared the most important thing they learned through Access Academy. Tahj, a student in the Computer Literacy program, reflected on what he learned about his work ethic. "I am better than I thought I was before," Tahj said to the audience. "If I put my mind to it, I can achieve what I want to do." Sarah, a student in Computer Literacy and Humanities After School, shared that she would not have had the confidence to stand up and talk to a crowd before the program. "[Access Academy] helped me discover who I am," she explained.
Professor Terri Greene Henning, the first professor to teach at Access Academy for an entire semester, offered her reflection on the power of the program. She was moved throughout the semester as she slowly discovered "who [the students] were, what they dreamed about, what they wish for, and who they want to be."
Naturally, the goal of Access Academy is to provide support for the high school students in the program. However, the experiences shared the Spring Showcase displayed that it does not matter if you are a high school student, a volunteer, a coordinator, a manager, or a professor- Access Academy will influence your life. "Access Academy set me on my best career path…[and] gave me a foundation for who I am today," Zachary Procek '17 explained in his reflection during the evening's welcoming remarks.
Access Academy celebrates its 8th birthday as this semester comes to a close. Meelia Center Director Dan Forbes reflected on how far the program has come.
He highlighted the Access Academy management team's unwavering commitment, the importance of the coordinators, volunteers, and service-learners, and most of all, the passion of the high school students, who all "keep us wanting to do better."
Recently, Access Academy was given a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to improve the program. The grant will allow for Access Academy to add 12 new courses over the span of 6 years. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) only provides grants for 2 high school programs in the country- Access Academy being one of them. With the support from everyone involved, the possibilities for the future of Access Academy are endless. There is so much to look forward to in the years to come.
Want to get involved in Access Academy? Stop by the Meelia Center and we will get you on board for next semester!