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Adapting the LEDA Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute to the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Throughout the summer, we’ve been sharing how the LEDA Community and LEDA itself have adapted to the “new normal” of life during the pandemic. We’ve heard from some of our Scholars, explored how our College Guidance and College Success teams supported our students as the pandemic began in the spring, and reported on last week’s virtual LEDA Career Institute. Today, we’ll be focusing on one of the most iconic parts of the LEDA experience: the Aspects of Leadership Summer Institute.

On June 20, we welcomed our newest LEDA Scholars, Cohort 16, to our first-ever virtual Summer Institute. For seven weeks, they experienced the key program components of the Summer Institute – the Aspects of Leadership course, writing instruction, standardized test preparation, college guidance, and community-building – through a remote model that synthesized our expertise, best practices for online learning, and the needs of our Scholars.

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LEDA Cohort 16 Scholars showing their LEDA pride on social media “LEDA merch came in <3 Missing being on the Princeton campus but so grateful we get to do this SI virtually”

When we made the decision back in the spring to transition to a remote model, our team faced the herculean challenge of translating an intentionally and famously residential program into a supportive and effective virtual one within a few short months. By ensuring that our students remained at the center of all of our adaptations, our team achieved extraordinary success in both planning and execution.

Accessibility was a top priority. According to an Associated Press analysis, 17% of students in the U.S. don’t have access to a computer at home and 18% don’t have Internet access; a study by Carnegie Mellon and MIT found that Black, Latinx, immigrant, rural, and low-income households are more likely to lack stable Internet access – or any access – at home. To ensure that our Scholars could participate fully in the Summer Institute, we provided technology and internet access for Scholars according to their specific needs, as well as study grants for the entire Cohort to help support food and housing security during the summer.

In addition, we blended synchronous and asynchronous programming, offering multiple sections of each synchronous class meeting to accommodate Scholars with scheduling constraints and time zone differences between the 102 members of Cohort 16 scattered across 37 states. With LEDA’s expertise in providing remote services, the necessity of modular flexibility was clear from the start; simply mimicking a traditional classroom, as The Hechinger Report wrote, “flies in the face of research-based best practices for online learning. Students cannot be expected to sit in front of their computers for seven hours per day.”

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LEDA Cohort 16 Scholars presenting their Community Impact Projects via Zoom meeting to an audience of their peers, faculty, staff, and invited guests Audience members applauding Cohort 16 Scholars on video and via emojis on successfully presenting their Community Impact Projects

Video conferencing facilitated online versions of key activities, such as one-on-one check-ins with faculty, college guidance counselors, and Scholar mentors; information sessions with representatives from college admissions offices; and group meetings for classes and “virtual clubs.” The LEDA Community also stepped up to recreate the on-campus environment of past years that celebrates inclusion, belonging, and self-expression, helping our Cohort 16 Scholars connect with one another and with the larger LEDA network. “LEDA does a great job of creating safe spaces that allow us to share what we think,” said Jesus, a Cohort 16 Scholar from Arkansas. “It’s been constructive and inspiring to learn from other Scholars’ experiences and to know that LEDA is committed to providing this for us.”

In the fall, we’ll be sharing more on what we learned about supporting students remotely, challenges that students and organizations may face (and solutions), and which adaptations might be retained to increase the efficacy of in-person services. We’re thrilled with the success of our first-ever virtual summer programs, and we’re grateful to everyone in the LEDA Community who helped make them an amazing experience.

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