Adrian Kulesza

The Ulysses S. Grant Foundation has been running in Dwight Hall since 1963 and offers a six-week summer academic program for middle school students in New Haven schools.  

The program will run daily on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from June 24 to Aug. 2, and Yale undergraduates will have the opportunity to design their own curriculum about a topic of interest to teach the students. The program costs $75 to attend, although the U.S. Grant Foundation offers full scholarships for students. The program unites students from schools across the city to offer them an enriching opportunity to learn and take part in other activities.

“The program’s mission [is] to set kids up for a successful school experience, but really more so to have a positive and powerful experience over the summer that can serve as a touchstone for many years to come,” said Sam Purdy ’10, a member of the board of directors for the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation.

Purdy added that the program also aims to provide academic enrichment and social connections between middle school students and between the students and the instructors, which is especially important, since middle school is a pivotal time for learning and growth.

Each student in the program takes a humanities class, an investigations class and an elective of their choice. Classes offered in previous years were about topics such as psychology, astronomy and climate change, all of which were designed by Yale undergraduates based on their interests.

Last summer, Lyn Rodriguez ’26, one of the co-directors of the program this year, taught a class on Aztec history. 

“[It was] very niche and teaching it to sixth graders is definitely a challenge, but it was fun for them,” Rodriguez said.

As a former student of the program, Rodriguez felt like this was one of the bridges that connected Yale to New Haven and has very low barriers for entry. She was also able to make friends from different schools in New Haven who she saw again at other programs over the years. 

Teaching through the program has been a very rewarding, full-circle experience for Rodriguez. She pointed out that she and her co-workers developed a deep, emotional connection with the students they taught. 

Purdy, who was also a teacher for the program in his undergraduate years, said that his time was very transformative and set him on the path for his future.

“It just felt like this experience opened me up to forming such powerful relationships with kids and families and not to mention fellow teachers. Ever since then, my only work has been in education,” Purdy said.

Outside of classes, the program also offers other activities that expose students to different parts of New Haven, such as City Hall, where students were hosted by Mayor Justin Elicker one summer.

In the past several years, the program has connected students to Yale resources like brain research labs and the Yale New-Haven Hospital. The program also invites student groups like Sabrosura, a Latin dance team, to perform for the students.

Rodriguez agreed with this sentiment, saying that the program opens up students to the idea of what a university looks and feels like.

Klara Oppenheimer, a student who has participated in the program for three years, thoroughly enjoyed her experience virtually and in-person. 

“Something that I really like about [the program] is the way that I can and do apply the things I learn at US Grant throughout the school year. We’ll start a topic in class, and I’ll think ‘Oh! I know this from US Grant!’” Oppenheimer wrote.

Oppenheimer took classes through Zoom in her first year in the program, and her class of children’s media connected her with the teacher made her really want to continue with the program for the following year. 

She was first nervous about attending the program in-person in her second year after her fun experience the previous summer, but she said that her in-person experience exceeded the virtual one of the previous year.

“You don’t even notice the time passing between the day that everyone is quiet and shy, and the day that everyone is laughing and yelling and feeling like family. I’m going to be so disappointed this summer when I age out, but I also feel so fortunate that I have these memories that I’ll keep forever,” Oppenheimer wrote.

The Ulysses S. Grant Foundation is accepting applications for student instructors for summer 2024 until Feb. 23, 2024.

Agomoni Saha covers Nonprofits and Social Services as an associate beat reporter. She is a first-year in Saybrook College majoring in chemistry.