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November 11, 2002

Saturday Scholars have sights set on college

Seventy-five high school students are sacrificing their weekends and getting a jump on their futures in the Saturday Scholars Academy, a program providing teenagers with academic enhancement classes specially designed to help them prepare for the rigors of higher education.

The program has grown by more than 50 percent in the past four years and there are several students on a waiting list, attesting to the Academy's popularity. Eric Gravenberg, program founder and associate vice president of student affairs, says being a Saturday Scholar doesn't guarantee admission to CSUS or any other school. But he says 100 percent of the Scholars from the spring 2002 session have gone on to a college or university. And 64 percent of them are currently attending the CSUS.

The students, all with personal or social obstacles to overcome, attend specially designed math, English and critical thinking classes several weekends each semester.

In order to attend the classes, they must fulfill several requirements. Each student has to be enrolled in high school and hold at least a 2.00 GPA. The teenagers and their parents need to complete applications and undergo personal interviews. Most importantly, the students need the drive, ambition and potential to eventually attend a four-year university. The parents must commit the necessary time as well, especially since some students come from communities all over Northern California, including Dixon, Stockton and Vacaville.

The students do not receive letter grades for their Academy classes. But the University faculty and staff provide thorough feedback. Gravenberg says their high school teachers have positive reactions to the students' progress. They comment how much more likely the Saturday Scholars are to show enthusiasm and engage in classroom discussions than other students. This behavior is often different than what the student displayed before becoming joining the program.

Gravenberg says he knows students who completely changed. "They were very shy and withdrawn. They've just blossomed."

It is this kind of individual growth the program is designed to encourage, shaping effective leaders. Gravenberg says in the Saturday Scholars classes, "Everyone wants to be smart, everyone wants to achieve, and everyone wants to be a leader." For example, a student might research problems and solutions involving overcrowding in public schools. The student-researcher is then encouraged to present his or her findings to a school district superintendent or school board. "The scholars' work has some practical use," Gravenberg says.

The parents also play enormous roles in encouraging the students' development.

Gravenberg says the program is very strict about the families' commitment to the students. The parents participate in their own mandatory seminars. They attend meetings discussing peer pressure, how much time their son or daughter should study, and how to effectively communicate as a family. Gravenberg says the parents find a lot of support from the program and other parents. "They get a renewed sense of energy for the Scholar," he says.

And Gravenberg has higher goals in mind. "My goal is to see this program represented on all CSU campuses."

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