Access Academy to Expand with New NEH Grant

March 20, 2017

By Chip Underhill

Access Academy, an innovative program led by Saint Anselm College students for high school students of refugee, immigrant and underrepresented families in Manchester, N.H., will expand substantially due to a significant federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

With teaching and mentorship by Saint Anselm students, Access Academy exposes and inspires high school students in Manchester-primarily from immigrant and refugee families-to higher education, career opportunities and humanities studies including critical thinking, writing and communications with a complement of science and computer courses.

The NEH has granted Saint Anselm up to $100,000 in matching funds for the program; the college can raise up to that amount with a dollar-for-dollar match by the NEH. Access Academy is offered through the Meelia Center for Community Engagement, a cornerstone of the community service culture at Saint Anselm College. "This grant creates greater access to more local students and more courses of study," explains Dan Forbes, director of the Meelia Center.

Forbes says Access Academy's curriculum will expand with a dozen new Humanities programs, adding to those now offered in Career and College Exploration, College Admissions, Computer Literacy and Construction, Creative Writing and Communication, Environmental Studies, Humanities After School, and Students in Action.

Since the program was founded in 2009, Saint Anselm students have served over 350 high school students from over a dozen countries including Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Nepal, Syria, Congo, Sudan, Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. One student leader, Pauline Yates '19, a computer science major, teaches as a Computer Literacy Coordinator.

"Working with students through Access Academy is an amazing opportunity for me, and a great opportunity for our high school students," says Yates. "I think that the coordinators and volunteers enjoy the process almost as much as the students do. I've been involved with the Computer Literacy program since my freshman year and every group we've had has been eager to learn. Access Academy gives high school students a chance to earn extra credits and get a glimpse of what life is like on a college campus."

Sneha Hoda, whose parents emigrated from Kathmandu, Nepal, is a current freshman at Saint Anselm College and a former program participant from Manchester Memorial High School. "I loved how most of the Academy classes were taught by the college students. This made my experience more personable," says Hoda. "It was easier to ask for help when needed. Everyone was very approachable and welcoming. They were great role models and mentors to the high schoolers."

Sneha was introduced to Access Academy by her sister Smriti, a former participant herself who also later enrolled at Saint Anselm College. A member of the Class of 2016, Smriti is currently conducting research at the University of Georgia.

"As a first generation, the road to college was not clear," says Smriti Hoda, "[but] the Academy allowed me to interact with actual professors and college students; this was critical! I gained the confidence to apply to six colleges and got acceptance to all of them. This program opened a door to a world of opportunities."

Through Manchester's four public high schools, Access Academy is an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) which awards academic credits for learning experiences outside a traditional classroom setting. Claudette Knieriem is the ELO Coordinator at West High School.

"Access Academy creates opportunities of which refugee and immigrant students may not be culturally aware," says Knieriem. "I just love it that these students are thinking about their futures. This program gives them that little push to try it-and it works! The NEH grant will be a big help in helping to meet growing enrollment in the Meelia Center program at Saint Anselm."

The journey of each student in Access Academy is illustrated in a traditional end-of-year Meelia Center event at which students give final presentations of what they have experienced and learned, says Forbes. The 2017 presentations will be on April 11 in the New Hampshire Institute of Politics from 4 - 6 pm. "They are always inspiring," says Forbes. "Access Academy is full of extraordinary stories."

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