Supporting College Access and Preparing for Success

by Jacqueline Rushing,

CAMPUS ANNOUNCEMENT

Dear Willamette community,

As the Interim-Executive Director chiefly responsible for designing the changes to the Academy, I would like to provide further background on why changes to Willamette Academy are necessary and give you a brief glimpse of its future. This is a time of evolution and growth for Willamette Academy and it is my hope that sharing this information will provide more context and generate excitement for the future educational journey of the Academy students.
 
I’d like to first acknowledge the hard work that’s gone into making the Academy an important part of the Willamette and Salem communities. Student success stories come out of the Academy year after year. This is a direct result of the work put in by Academy staff, Willamette faculty and dedicated Willamette University students – including Willamette Academy alumni – who have kept the program afloat and supported students through leadership transitions.
 
While the program has produced some students who’ve enrolled at Willamette, it’s important to look further than initial attendance. Since 2006, less than half of academy students attending Willamette have graduated – a lower rate than for similar students attending Willamette. We have a responsibility to do better, and the program changes are designed to go beyond access. The revised program focuses on preparation and support.
 
Willamette University recognizes that the Academy has not received the institutional attention it needs to be successful and sustainable into the future, and the revised program design includes increased support from the university. The current organization of the Academy has resulted in less focus on academic and social preparation, despite the best efforts by staff and student volunteers. Lack of oversight has also resulted in safety issues for current students and staff that put them, the Academy and the University at risk.
 
Rest assured, these significant issues are being addressed and students currently enrolled in the Academy will be supported by Dr. Rita Moore, who has taken over Academy operations.
 
Note that all current Willamette Academy students, including those who are a part of the new Willamette Academy, will have their full financial need met if admitted to Willamette University in the future. This is an important institutional commitment.
 
I will be working hard to develop a new structure for the Academy that will launch next fall. The focus will be on serving a smaller number of students in grades 10-12 with the goal of providing all Willamette Academy students with the tools they need to access college and for academic success, engagement and persistence in college. As colleges implement programs to diversify their campuses, we’re learning how important support services - especially during the first years of college - are to underrepresented students. As a result, the new program design includes two years of college support services.
 
Social and emotional support workshops will be conducted in order to prepare Academy students for the alienation and disengagement many underrepresented students may feel at predominantly white institutions. The new Academy will have a program designed to protect students from alienation and disengagement; to prepare them for resistant responses to differential treatment they may encounter; to help to socialize them to rely on each other for friendship and support; and to connect them with current underrepresented students who can share with them useful navigational insights. The weekly sessions for students in grades 10 to 12 will include workshops for college preparation and application. Saturday sessions will have meaningful collaborative meetings and experiential learning opportunities. These weekly meetings and Saturday sessions will be held on campus, and will take advantage of the many opportunities to participate in campus activities so students will experience Willamette as their university.  We are partnering with the Salem-Keizer School District’s AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination), which provides academic support to the students allowing the Academy to focus on preparation for the college experience.
 
As an alumna and member of Willamette University Board of Trustees, I volunteered to lead this transition of Willamette Academy as the Interim Executive Director.  I have more than 23 years of experience in running programs to advance students of color, have been an AVID coordinator, and currently lead an award-winning college access program in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I am committed to using my experience and expertise to create a stronger Willamette Academy to serve students of color in the Salem-Keizer School District better.
 
I invite you to stay tuned for more information as we finalize details.

 
Sincerely,
 
Jacqueline Rushing
Interim Executive Director
Willamette Academy