Double Discovery Introduces Local High School Students to the "Core" of College Academics

July 29, 2010Bookmark and Share

For the second consecutive summer, a group of talented New York City teenagers from low and moderate income families have come to Columbia University for an introduction to rigorous, college-level coursework in the humanities thanks to a unique collaboration between the University's Center for American Studies and its Double Discovery Center (DDC) for local high school students.

Participating faculty and Double Discovery students talk about the Teagle program, which offers college-level coursework based on the University's Core Curriculum. (5:17)

Students in the program live and study at Columbia for four weeks, attending seminars and workshops that explore enduring works from Plato to Thomas Jefferson to Frederick Douglass. On Friday afternoons, field trips include a visit to the United Nations, the Dwyer Cultural Center in West Harlem and a walking tour of the Lower East Side. Funded by a three-year grant from the Teagle Foundation, the program continues during the academic year with Saturday meetings in which the students collaborate on an oral history project.

The summer coursework is based on Introduction to Contemporary Civilization, the oldest course in Columbia’s Core Curriculum, and emphasizes the twin themes of freedom and citizenship. Instructors include philosopher and dean of Columbia College Michele Moody-Adams; history professors Andrew Delbanco, who also directs the Center for American Studies, Casey Blake, faculty chair for the Center for American Studies, Roosevelt Montás, director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum, as well as history professor Eric Foner. 

Blake says that the program has two goals. “One is to help these students prepare for college-level work,” he said. “The other goal is to give them an opportunity to think about their own experiences—as New Yorkers, as Americans in the twenty-first century—in a larger historical context; to realize that they are part of a conversation that dates back to the ancient world.”

During the academic year, Columbia’s Double Discovery Center provides after-school and weekend academic enrichment and college preparation programming for nearly 1,000 local public school students, primarily staffed by Columbia undergraduate volunteers. During the Teagle-funded residential summer program, campus-based activities and close interaction with Columbia students, faculty and staff offer intensive academic and developmental opportunities for young people who are often the first college-bound generation in their families. The success of last year’s participants was reflected in their college acceptances, with several local students going on to attend schools like Columbia, Stanford and Barnard.

“One of the things that DDC has patented is our residential summer program—the idea that we take kids and, rather than put them in classes and send them home, immerse them in a college environment,” said Kevin Matthews, executive director of the Double Discovery Center, which was founded by Columbia students themselves in 1965.

Montás says that the teaching he does through the Teagle program has been the most satisfying of his career. “You see the impact that it’s having on the students,” he said. “You look around the room and you see light bulbs going off in people’s heads, you see eyes getting bright, you see people understanding things and being fascinated by things, having their world opened up.”

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