This summer, a dozen students from New Haven Public Schools will have the chance to discuss Locke and Lincoln in a Yale classroom.
The “Citizens, Thinkers, Writers: Reflecting on Civic Life” program will begin its pilot session this July. The NPHS high-school students participating in this tuition-free program will engage in a two-week seminar, where they will connect historical writings on civic life to contemporary life in New Haven. During these two weeks, the students will live on campus, participating in supplementary workshops and activities. Citizens, Thinkers, Writers — which will focus on participants who are future first-generation college students — is led by the University’s Humanities Program through Yale’s Pathways to the Arts & Humanities initiative. The program will remain small this summer while establishing its footing, said Humanities Program chair Bryan Garsten, who is spearheading Citizens, Thinkers, Writers.
Garsten said he is seeking avid readers and thinkers who “are interested in talking about big human questions.” He said he and other program administrators have reached out to teachers and librarians to recommend and nominate students. Students can apply for admission into the seminar until March 15.
“This a very modest initiative to do small things that remind us that we live in a particular place and have responsibilities to that particular place,” Garsten said.
After reading a 2014 op-ed by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni on Columbia University’s Freedom and Citizenship Program for high schoolers, Garsten thought that New Haven would be the perfect place to establish a similar program. Garsten reached out to administrators of the Columbia program, while Director of Undergraduate Studies of Directed Studies Kathryn Slanski sat in on the seminar last summer. This summer, Slanski will teach Yale’s seminar alongside Garsten. Unlike the Columbia program, Citizens, Thinkers, Writers will focus more broadly on humanities rather than political philosophy, Garsten said.
Roosevelt Montas, the director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum, has taught the Freedom and Citizenship seminar at Columbia in previous summers. He said the new Yale program is one of a handful which have been created — including one at Carthage College that will also begin this summer — since the Columbia program’s inception.
“We hope that this becomes a trend,” Montas said. “We hope that many schools do what Columbia and Yale and Carthage are now doing — that is, to make their intellectual wealth available and accessible to underserved high school students in their surroundings.”
When Garsten began investigating other Yale outreach programs to Elm City high schoolers, he realized that though many of the University’s STEM departments collaborate with NHPS, similar outreach was not present within the humanities departments.
Director of Education Studies Lizzy Carroll, who has advised Garsten and his team on the program, said she connected Garsten with Director of Public School Partnerships Claudia Merson in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs. Merson and her department have provided logistical support for Citizens, Thinkers, Writers, such as creating a link between Yale and NHPS.
Merson anticipates that this summer, Citizens, Thinkers, Writers participants will be housed with other Elm City high-school students in Yale’s Pathways to Science Summer Scholars Program. This early experience in residential college living will help them work on interpersonal, nonacademic skills such as rooming with other students and resolving conflicts, Merson said.
Garsten said he has procured funding for the program — the main costs of which are room and board for the students — from Yale’s Humanities Program, but added that he hopes to secure support from outside foundations in future years.
The program staff will also include a graduate-student coordinator and three undergraduate residential assistants. Garsten said he hopes the program will help bridge the intense but separate worlds of extracurriculars and academics in which Yale students often live. Citizens, Thinkers, Writers is still seeking Yale students for the RA positions, he added.
The success of the program will be determined by the students’ engagement in the classroom, Garsten said. He added that ideally, all 12 students will finish the program and apply to college in the fall. After the July seminar, students will continue to receive advising support from the program as they enter their senior year and begin the college application process.
The seminar will run from July 11 to July 22.