October 1, 2017
Student U holds “Read Fearlessly” classes during its Summer Academy, when students read the same book and analyze it together.

Ana Canseco-Orocio joined Student U when she was a sixth-grader at Durham’s Brogden Middle School.

She was taken aback at first by the intensity of the program – Student U students attend a six-week summer academic program as well as a daily afterschool program during the school year. But she grew to love her instructors and the elective classes she got to take, such as dancing, stepping and Pilates. She also made five best friends at Student U.

Canseco-Orocio is now a junior at Middle College High School, a magnet high school for juniors and seniors at Durham Technical Community College. She is also still a Student U student and a Student U ambassador, which means she talks with community members about the nonprofit, and is planning to become the first in her family to attend college. She is thinking about enrolling at Appalachian State University or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Student U, which is based in Durham, is a college-access and success organization that supports students through middle school, high school and college. Besides offering daily afterschool programming as well as a six-week Summer Academy, the nonprofit also touches base with families throughout the year through phone calls and conferences, and provides students with tutoring, internships, field trips and college tours.

In 2016, Student U received $3,250 from the Youth Empowerment category of Doing Good in the Neighborhood, Duke’s annual employee giving campaign. The recipients of Youth category funding work with Durham’s youth to prepare them for high school graduation, college and a career. Funding for Student U partially covered two middle-school teacher salaries as well as bought literacy supplies and books for the nonprofit’s “Read Fearlessly” program.

During Student U’s Summer Academy, about 150 middle-school students participate in 50-minute “Read Fearlessly” classes, where they practice reading strategies independently and as a group. According to 2013-14 data, Student U students outperformed their Durham Public Schools peers on the Reading End-of-Grade (EOG) test.

“The success of the future of Durham depends on the success of the students in our school buildings right now,” said Alex Lowe, a Student U learning specialist who organized the “Read Fearlessly” classes. “Durham’s success depends on students having the academic skills to go out and do great things in our community, but also have the critical-thinking skills and empathy to go out and advocate for change. ‘Read Fearlessly’ at a really small level works toward those things.”

Brandon Sweeney, a Duke junior studying public policy and English, worked this summer at Student U as a sixth-grade English teacher. He taught “Read Fearlessly” and read “The Outsiders” with the sixth-graders. They discussed politics, racial violence and the idea of belonging, as well as studied vocabulary from the book.

“Kids were able to make those types of connections in big ways to what they’ve seen in their own lives or in their schools,” Sweeney said.

Canseco-Orocio remembered reading “The Outsiders” when she was in sixth-grade “Read Fearlessly” classes. “The Outsiders” became her favorite book because it realistically described conflicts between teenagers, in which the East-Side “greasers” in the book are constantly at war with the West-Side “Socs.” She and her friends had the opportunity to ask questions and participate in book discussions.

Overall, Canseco-Orocio said Student U has boosted her confidence in the classroom. She is not as shy anymore and isn’t afraid to answer questions. She added that her family is proud of her, and since she has two younger sisters, who are 7 years old and 1 year old, she hopes they grow up and one day join Student U, too.

“I would tell (my 7-year-old sister) to keep going because Student U is a great opportunity, and not many people get that opportunity,” Canseco-Orocio said. “It’s going to pay off in the end.”

Support organizations like Student U by making a gift to Doing Good in the Neighborhood. Duke employees can make a gift year-round that supports the important work of local nonprofits, schools and neighborhoods.

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