Under the leadership of Associate Teaching Professor of Education Cindy Kern, the QUADS initiative launched in July 2021. The three-year-long program hosts 75 high school students from Hamden, Ansonia and Meriden.
Through a combination of mentorship, placed-based pedagogies, community connections and engagement efforts, QUADS aims to holistically encourage and prepare high school students from under-resourced communities to pursue higher education, said Kern.
“Our focus on community building began last September with three months of intensive work with Quinnipiac faculty, undergraduate, and high school teachers by centering on diversity, equity and inclusion principles,” she said. “We started this important work by challenging our own ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion therefore allowing us to use these shared experiences in our work with critical pedagogies. We are engaging with students from under-resourced communities, and we wanted to go in with the challenging personal work started so we could be in service to our partner school districts, our students and our QUADS community.”
Quinnipiac student mentors met with high school teachers and students weekly on “a quest for questions,” said Kern. Students explore topics they would like to see change in, including school safety, climate change and available community gathering spaces. The students created 28 questions to survey.
The high school students will spend their upcoming sophomore year engaging in research and developing potential solutions. Many chose to explore wicked questions, a term referencing complex questions about a system of interconnected variables. When one addresses one variable, it impacts all the other variables in positive or negative ways. This is an incredible opportunity for the QUADS students to work on college readiness skill-like critical thinking, problem solving, and systems thinking in the context of something they are passionate about, said Kern.
The last year of QUADS will see participants entering their communities to engage with stakeholders that can affect change, including parent groups, government officials and town boards. Teachers and mentors will also work with the high schoolers on college preparation, supplying guidance on applications, FAFSA forms and more.
“The programming is always contextualized around college readiness, with students learning to ask questions and dive into the world, working on learning communication, research, models and patterns,” said Kern. "QUADS is always about developing college readiness within context, centered on student interest, and their place among our world and our society."
Kern reached out to the network of local teachers she’s worked with on professional learning and other initiatives to launch QUADS. She chose to let the teachers recruit participating high school students, as she feels they can identify who would get the most out of the opportunity. She said she recognizes and values the expertise of the classroom teachers, meaning decisions about recruitment, curriculum and enactment were made by teachers in the best interest of their QUADS students.
For Kern, the summer experience week was a joyous culmination of opportunities she envisioned for all participants.
“We’re hoping to build community in the students’ schools and connect with the communities they live in,” she said. “The summer experience really helped students understand that Quinnipiac is their community, too.”
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