The Ninde Scholars Program, which was founded in 2003, is a partnership among Oberlin College, the Oberlin City Schools and the Lorain County Urban League. The program aims primarily to provide college preparation services to students from underrepresented communities, low-income backgrounds and those who would be the first in their families to graduate from college.
Ninde Scholars are selected from a pool of applicants from Oberlin High School and enter the program in eleventh grade. These students are paired with a college tutor who assists them with all aspects of the college application process and test preparation.
The program also partners with Langston Middle School to tutor “Aspiring Scholars” in a range of subject areas. Currently there are 19 tutors and a combined 42 Ninde Scholars and Aspiring Scholars.
During the summer the Ninde program offers a four-week Summer Enrichment Course, facilitated by four College tutors, for the 24 Aspiring Scholars in seventh through tenth grade. The Ninde program also hosts a two-week writing course to focus on bettering the students’ writing skills and beginning work on college application writing.
Finally, the program offers a Summer Bridge Program, a four-day session for graduating scholars to go over the basics of transitioning to college — including doing your own laundry, roommate conflicts and budgeting. All of these programs, especially the Summer Enrichment Course, function as a means of addressing what many call “summer learning loss.”
“Every year students from lower income backgrounds lose a little bit over the summer and as they get older and older this gap just gets wider and wider,” said Bo Arbogast, the program’s director. “Middle and upper income kids are more likely to be reading books, going to museums, having a summer camp experience… Whereas less affluent young people are more likely to have not as good nutrition and less likely to have enriching experiences.”
Rebecca Jones, a College junior who has been a tutor for both the regular program and the summer course, said, “I think I got really valuable teaching experience. I am definitely a better teacher now than I was at the beginning of the summer. I gained an appreciation for the time and effort that goes into planning and running these kinds of programs.”
Jones also explained that there are a couple electives taught every year so that students can have the opportunity to explore topics they wouldn’t normally be exposed to in school. These electives vary in subject matter and range from everything from building bicycles to photography to video editing.
Caleb Hughley, an eighth grader and Aspiring Scholar, has participated in the summer course twice before and says that along with practicing math and writing, “I’ve done music, I built a bike at the bike co-op, I did poetry and computer camp.”
He said that the computer programing was by far his favorite activity.
“It stands for everything I think Oberlin should be about—moving beyond abstract idealism, although that’s also necessary, to actually putting our principles, talents, energies and yes, considerable academic privilege to work on behalf of our community,” said College senior and tutor Maxwell Anzilotti.
Anzilotti, who has been tutoring with the program for one year, is very enthusiastic about his experiences with the students he has worked with. He explained that the tutors act as both mentors and teachers and thus the students “learn that college students are normal kids much like themselves, which in turn helps them actually see themselves going to college … which makes college a more tangible reality, gives them something to work toward.”
Dazhane Hill, age 15, is an energetic eighth grader who has planned out her trajectory through high school, college and graduate school to obtain a degree in nursing. She said that working with the college tutors is fun and intimidating, but that, “it gives you a chance to be outgoing and be yourself because most Oberlin College students are outgoing and they make you feel like you’re part of the family when you’re actually younger than them.”
She explained that prior to becoming an Aspiring Scholar she wasn’t inspired to go to college. She said her perspective was changed “because some of the college students have come from really bad backgrounds, so I’m thinking ‘if they can overcome this bad background, then maybe I can.’”
Arbogast said, “I think Oberlin College students are pretty unique in their community service-oriented outlook and I think that helps us in recruiting because we never have problems getting tutors for the program.” He also explained that the program consistently has to turn students away because they receive too many applications from both the middle and high schools.
According to College Access Coordinator Angela LaGrotteria, this coming fall, students who have graduated from the Ninde Scholars Program will attend Hiram College, Baldwin Wallace University, Heidelberg University, Edinboro University, Westminster College, Cleveland State University, The College of Wooster and Lorain County Community College.
At the start of this academic year, the Ninde Program moved into their office at 145 West Lorain Street to share the space with the Bonner Center for Service and Learning. Arbogast said, “Being [there] has really increased our connection with the other great work that Oberlin College students are doing in the community.”