Houston visits Chicago!

“The driven minds of the people that I met in Chicago or in Houston, and who are a part of Project Rousseau, have encouraged me to work harder, to be the best I can be, academically, and as a person.”

On the 4th-7th of March 2017 Project Rousseau sent three students from our Houston Chapter to Chicago for four interesting days, packed with activities. The trip was a part of our Broadening Horizons pillar, aiming to open their eyes further by exposing them to environments and opportunities outside of their everyday life.

Throughout their days in Chicago, the students got to visit academic, cultural and entertaining sights and places. Our students got explore the life of a UChicago student, both through a tour of the campus and participation in classes on campus. With an inside experience of the school, our students became not only more informed about their opportunities and ways to achieve these, but also broadened the range of universities our students considered and help them to feel more secure about taking possibilities - also outside their home state, Texas:

“I was considering universities close to home because I was nervous, and didn't really think big or outside of the box. Now, I can say that there is a possibility of me choosing the University of Chicago.”

A big part of the program is also the cultural and personal development outside of the classroom. Luckily, Chicago has many cultural experiences we could take advantage of. The Smart Museum of Art at University of Chicago was a great opportunity for our students to also see other sides of education than the classic academical ways. Other cultural experiences to add to the students experience in Chicago is the Mandel Hall symphony and amusement such as the Art Institute, a visit to the Navy Pier, and a visit to the Skydeck in Willis Tower.

With a trip like this, the students got to not only experience and explore a city different from their hometown, but also open their eyes to a world that in generally bigger than what they’d imagined before this trip.

One of the students described the trip as:

“opening my eyes and made me realize the world is a big place, and if I ever get the chance I'd like to travel to more places. Being in PR has made a huge impact on my life I would've never traveled outside of Texas if I hadn't been in this project.”

UNIS-UN Conference

Each year since 1976 our partner school, the United Nations International School (UNIS) has hosted their UNIS-UN Conference at the United Nations General Assembly. This year some of our Project Rousseau students were very grateful to receive invites. UNIS students have been an invaluable resource for our students providing weekly tutoring across a range of subjects; this invite highlighted how special this partnership is to both parties.

The 2017 conference centered on the topic “Migration: Crossing the Line” and featured a broad range of speakers including Angy Rivera, an advocate for undocumented immigrants’ rights who was undocumented herself for much of her early life and Selcuk Sirin, J. K. Javits Professor at New York University. Our students attentively listened to all the speakers and by the second day had the confidence to pose some very thought-provoking questions to the speakers. The student-led debates added a fascinating dynamic to the conference: hearing the views of peers from over 25 countries was an enlightening experience for all.

The range of countries represented was without a doubt a highlight for our students. They enjoyed the fantastic opportunity to learn about living in other countries over a shared lunch, in the UN Delegates’ Dining Room no less, with students from places such as Bermuda, Japan and France. We were also delighted to bump into our partner school from Switzerland, Institut Florimont, whose delegation coincidentally included one of our exchange hosts from January!

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the amazing setting for the conference: the UN General Assembly. Seated at the back of the room, in the seats usually occupied by Yemen’s representatives, we had the chance to take in many aspects of the space. Now, our students can comfortably point out where the interpreters sit and the languages they specialize in and had great fun finding where their family’s country would sit.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to UNIS for allowing us to participate in such a special experience and for their continued support. 

日本に歓迎 - Welcome to Japan!

The highlight of February was undoubtedly Project Rousseau’s inaugural Japanese exchange with schools in Tokyo and Kyoto.

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Our students began their stay in Tokyo with our partner school, K-International School (K-IST). Whilst in Tokyo the group visited various cultural highlights such as the Imperial Palace, various temples and the Miraikan Museum of Science. After a few days the group then took the notorious “Bullet Train” to Kyoto and our partner school Gaidai Nishi High School where they continued to take in their surroundings, visiting the Gion District, Arashiyma bamboo forest and more sacred sites.

Perhaps most enriching for students on this trip however was learning about the profound cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. Over the week the students learnt to navigate these contrasts and gained both an appreciation and an understanding of Japanese traditions. Certainly, staying with host families and attending school with their host siblings heightened this experience and all of the students commented that it was through their hosts that they learned the most about their new surroundings. From gender roles in the household to the lives of teenagers, our students picked up on various cultural differences and all now agree that they are more culturally aware. In particular, Kathy commented that whilst she has “always wanted to know more about the world, I’d never previously pushed myself to do it”. Students were also surprised at how easy it was to manage in a foreign country. With great insight, they attributed this to Japan’s welcoming attitude towards newcomers and in particular their hosts’ generosity and hospitality. As a result, Project Rousseau students are determined to return to Japan in the future, and have found themselves considering an option they never before thought possible: studying abroad. Spending time in both Kyoto and Tokyo also allowed our students to refine their new found understanding of Japanese culture as they began to notice similarities and differences between the two cities and their takes on modernity.

The students also spent time in the classroom at our partner schools. From language lessons to earthquake safety simulations, our students fully embraced being thrown into the deep end at a Japanese high school. An overriding sentiment of the group is the warmth which they were welcomed by the students in Japan. Indeed, there was without a doubt a lot of bilateral learning going on as the Japanese students quizzed their new Project Rousseau friends about life back in the U.S. and in particular their Hispanic culture.

Preparing for our first trip to Asia was a substantial task for both Project Rousseau staff and students and we would like to extend a huge thank you to our Japanese partner schools and host families for their hospitality and help before, during and after our trip. We are already planning our future collaborations and look forward to more Project Rousseau, K-IST and Gaidai Nishi students meeting and exchanging ideas in the near future. 

London and Geneva Exchange 2017

One of our targets for 2017 is to send 100 students abroad. We started work on this goal just nine days into the new year visiting not one but two countries.

Our London exchange has become a firm favorite on our calendar and our students are always amazed by what they can learn in a city that on the surface is not too dissimilar to home. This year we added a two new partner schools to our visit, City of London School for Boys and Institut Florimont. Another added dimension to this trip was an excursion to Geneva for some of the students, our Spinoza Scholars, to participate in the Spinoza Foundations annual conference alongside the World Economic Forum.  

Looking back now the students admit that they were, understandably, far more nervous about meeting their hosts than they let on. Now, they also all agree that these nerves were soon cast aside as they were warmly welcomed into their hosts’ homes. Indeed, an overriding sentiment from all students is how much they enjoyed their home-stays and that it was through their hosts that they learnt the most. From an insight into Jewish family life, embracing the atmosphere at Watford F.C. and learning to navigate a three-course dinner our students certainly will never forget their time with their hosts in both London and Geneva. We are extremely grateful to our hosts for their hospitality and most importantly support for our students as they embraced these new experiences. As one of our students remarked: “they don’t just see us as the poor kids but as part of their family!”.

Another key aspect of our trip was spending time in class at our partner schools. In just a few days students visited four different schools and with each learned much more than the content of the class they were in (although of course that was extremely interesting too!). Whether it was tackling an A-Level Russian class, spending time in the Sixth Form Common Room (splitting time between playing pool and reading the newspapers!) or pointing out differences in Swiss students’ debating style compared to back home Tennessee our students really did maximize every learning opportunity our partner schools kindly gave them. Perhaps most notable was how inspired our students were by the behavior, camaraderie and work ethic of their new friends. Upon return, many have commented that they hope to incorporate these attitudes into their own lives back in the US.

Of course, a Broadening Horizons trip is not complete without some cultural excursions! This trip included visits to the Churchill War Rooms, listening to a debate in the Houses of Parliament and watching a play in the West End. This trip fell at a turbulent political time for both Great Britain and the United States and our experiences in London and Geneva allowed us to contextualize what we hear in the news, form our own opinions and learn from historical examples. The Geneva group also got to hear insights from world experts on the current political and economic climate and we are extremely grateful to the Spinoza Foundation for providing such a fascinating experience for our students. We also squeezed in a day trip to Oxford and took a private tour of New College with a very special tour guide - the Warden, Miles Young, of the college. 

Once again our trip to London and Geneva provided firm evidence to support our belief that an international exchange is one of the most valuable experience a high school student can have. These trips continue to broaden our students’ knowledge and understanding of new countries and cultures as well as developing many other key skills which will be critical to their future success. 

End of Year Report 2016

As we welcome in the New Year we would like to reflect on an extremely successful 2016. We are extremely grateful to our supporters, partner organizations and volunteers for all that they do for us. The extraordinary success of 2016 for our students would most definitely not have been possible without their continued support. We invite you to view our annual report which summarizes some of our highlights of the year. 

 

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Editing our College Essays at Hearst Tower

It's not unusual for Hearst Tower to be busy with industrious individuals late into the evening, however this week there was a slight twist. Thanks to Mark Redman and Maureen Sheehan of Hearst General Counsel we were invited to run our College Essay Bootcamp in this quite unusual setting. Whilst many of our students have grown up amongst Manhattan's towering skyscrapers very few have had chance to see what goes on inside and this location could not have been more inspiring for an evening of editing our college essays. 

The majority of our attendees were seniors working on their final edits as the Common App deadline draws closer at the end of the month. For them the evening was focused on getting final proof-reads and edits from our staff to give them the best possible chance of success in the coming months. An added bonus of our bootcamp set up is the opportunity it allows for students to work together and help each other. Our Senior Class are a particularly strong cohort in terms of the support they give each other and the friendships they have formed we are certain will last long after their high school graduation this year. 

Also attending our bootcamp were some of our alumni who were working just as hard but on slightly different applications, such as for jobs or community college. For some of these students getting to this position alone is a huge achievement in itself given the personal obstacles they have faced in the last few years. Helping them share their stories and successes and assisting them on their next steps was equally a focus of this evening.

Whilst the aim of the evening was to leave with a polished college essay we certainly left with so much more than that! This exciting setting sparked many discussions including about the value of networking, whether we can truly ever consider anyone an expert and how to represent yourself well in a corporate setting. Working in the General Counsel's office also reminded us just how many skill-sets are required to make a business successful and that we should think beyond the main function of a company. 

We are extremely thankful to both Mark and Maureen for making this opportunity possible and we are very excited to continue working with them and the Hearst Corporation in the future. 

A Visit to the Natural History Museum

This week our Broadening Horizons event featured a trip to The Natural History Museum. We met up by the great entrance, in front of the The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt. Gazing up at this imposing figure we discussed the history and purpose of the statue. The interesting background of the statue which quickly sparked a debate about history and the students’ life values. As we often say it is unexpected experiences like these which often are the most enlightening during our trips. 

Inside we visited exhibitions on everything from Asian culture, 5,000 year old South American traditions, meteorites and fossils from Saurischian Dinosaurs etc. 

Another pleasing aspect of the trip was the leadership some of our older students showed in assuming the role of "guides" for new students to the museum. Building on their previous visits to the museum these students expertly shared their knowledge with others.

Jean Prendergast Award 2016

Congratulations to Alice Randall, this year's winner of the prestigious Jean Prendergast Award for Excellence in Community Service! Alice has been vital in enrolling her fellow students into Project Rousseau's Chicago chapter, and her unquenchable enthusiasm for Project Rousseau will undoubtedly have a great impact on the Chicago chapter's first year of graduating students.

The Jean Prendergast Award for Excellence in Community Service is awarded annually to the Project Rousseau student who has made the most outstanding commitment to community service during the academic year. The recipient is recognized for exemplifying the qualities of service of others, altruism and compassion that Jean embodies through her volunteer and professional work with military veterans. Indeed, Pie Day itself is Jean's creation. 

Alice has grown up in the Southside of Chicago and has, first-hand, experienced the violence and turbulence this long neglected community suffers from. Despite, this Alice remains a constant source of positivity and is the first to be an advocate for her community. Alice has many hopes for the future but a running theme is to give back and help the future generations of Chicago's Southside. 

Special thanks should also go to Alice's fantastic mentor at UChicago, Danaë, for the consistent and dedicated support she has offered Alice throughout her high school career. 

Pie Day 2016

2016 was our biggest Pie Day yet and first to take place simultaneously in two cities: New York and Nashville. 

Pie Day in New York actually spanned two days beginning on Friday in our office. This year our interns revolutionized the pie crust preparation by measuring out the ingredients ahead of time. This definitely helped us exceed every expectation of volume and contributed to the overwhelming success of Pie Day 2016. We left Times Square late in the evening with a very full trunk load of pie crusts and various other ingredients and a gaggle of excited students! 

Just a few hours later we were unloading at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and Pie Day 2016 was officially underway. Students soon set to work on various stations from peeling apples to rolling dough out. Only slightly behind schedule, we had our first batch of pumpkin pies in by 10:20am. The morning progressed surprisingly smoothly and over 100 volunteers gathered to participate. We have certainly come a long way from the first Pie Day five years ago in a small studio apartment. One constant, however, is a core group of students who have proudly participated in every Project Rousseau Pie Day. 

We soon reached our limit and unfortunately ran out of pie tins and boxes well before we ran out of other ingredients and enthusiasm! We have definitely made a note for next year's planning team to up the number of boxes/tins. 

Over in Nashville pie preparation was also underway. Although a slighter smaller pie total this was a huge step for Project Rousseau and marked our first out of NY large community service event. Nashville's event also created a considerable stir in the local community with various media outlets coming to see what was going on (http://www.newschannel5.com/news/local-news/volunteers-bake-pies-for-the-homeless). The success of Nashville's event has inspired us to plan Pie Day in both D.C. and Chicago too next year. 

 

Nashville Students visit Chicago

We arrived in Chicago with one prospective applicant and one junior wavering and undecided; we left with two extremely eager and committed hopefully future UChicago students. 

The best way to decide if a school is right for you is with out a doubt visiting campus. Through our Domestic Exchanges our students are fortunate enough not just to visit campus but to fully embrace many aspects of life there and meet many current students.

Over a long weekend to Chicago our students experienced first hand the hard-work and diligence required to be a successful UChicago student and this certainly inspired them to aim for the school. The girls also participated fully in academic life attending lectures, participating in a small group discussion class on the literature of refugees and studying in "Reg" (the library). Outside of the classroom they also participated in a wide-variety of on-campus opportunities. We attended dance rehearsals, cheered on UChicago at football and soccer and listened to a talk by Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America. This wide range of experiences is something not every high school students gets to undertake and we hope will be immensely helpful for our students both when applying and also when they get to college as they are little bit more prepared! 

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We also used the visit to see some cultural aspects of Chicago's Downtown area. We visited the Art Institute, attended a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert and took a walking tour that explained the architecture of Chicago. The Nashville students were also joined by their Chicago Project Rousseau counter-parts for these trips helping both groups realize that their Project Rousseau "squad" extends much further than their own city! 

Now four of our Chapters have participated in Domestic Exchanges this academic year. We are always so amazed by the growth of our students even on a short trip such as these and look forward to students from our remaining chapters participating in trips shortly.