Last summer, Illinois Humanities, under the direction of Audrey Petty, piloted a program called Sojourner Scholars, an intensive summer arts and humanities institute for high school students living on Chicago’s South Side. Sojourner Scholars is a free program that provides students enrolled at public high schools the opportunity to take college-level courses in the humanities with local college and university professors and earn college credits over the span of three summers, beginning the summer following their freshman year.
The goal of Sojourner Scholars is to provide South Side students in public high schools with college-level arts and humanities-based courses and exposure to and engagement with local cultural resources early on in their high school education. Furthermore, the program sets out to teach students both critical and cultural literacy through arts and humanities courses and creative, arts-based learning opportunities. This summer 20 students will be returning for their second summer and 25 new students will be joining for their first summer in the program.
Currently Sojourner Scholars works with students from Harlan Community Academy, Simeon Career Academy, Percy Julian High School, and Hyde Park Academy. Students in the program follow the curriculum of the Odyssey Project, A Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities, and take courses in U.S. history and literature during their first summer (focusing on the theme of citizenship), in philosophy and art history during their second summer, (focusing on the theme of justice), and in their third and final summer, students complete a capstone course, which includes an intensive research project that focuses on community-based cultural resources and archives.
Over the three summers, students will complete over 110 hours of college-level classroom instruction and earn six fully-transferrable college credits in Humanities 100: Introduction to the Humanities. To lower barriers to participation, students receive a stipend for their participation in the program, lunch and snacks, and transportation to and from the program.
Sojourner Scholars accepts 20-25 students into each cohort and by summer 2018 will have three cohorts each year: a year one cohort, a year two cohort, and a capstone cohort. The first two summer sessions each take place over two consecutive weeks with scholars in class five days a week for five hours a day with a 45-minute lunch break. In the third and final summer of the program (the summer prior to their senior year in high school), students participate in a capstone course that takes place over three consecutive weeks meeting five days a week for five hours a day with a 45-minute lunch break.
In addition to the Summer Institute, Sojourner Scholars prioritizes widening its intellectual community to include students’ home communities (families, teachers, and neighbors) by creating a series of year-round programs that continue to build upon the ideas and work scholars begin to engage with during the summer program. Examples of these activities have included creative writing workshops with poet Mario Smith, artmaking workshops with staff at the Hyde Park Art Center, training as “interpreters in residence” at University of Chicago’s Smart Museum, and researching and archiving the extensive art collection of artist, collector, and founder of Diasporal Rhythms, Patric McCoy. The combination of college-level coursework in the humanities and engagement with creative practices prepares the scholars to more fully engage with the world around more critically and creatively.