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Back in 2007, one of my students brought in an advertisement she had clipped from the Boston Globe. “Can we go to this, Ms. Barile?” she asked. “I think it looks really fun. It would probably be a great opportunity for us, don’t you think?” The ad was for One Day University—an event that would end up profoundly impacting the lives of several of my low-income, urban high school students.
The advertisement explained the One Day University program: four college professors from top universities around the country would present special versions of their finest lectures— live— in this one-day event. The professors were all recipients of dozens of teaching awards and had earned the highest possible ratings from their students. Best of all, their lectures had amazing titles like: “Learning to Love Classical Music” and the “The Politics of Morality in America” and covered a broad range of subjects, including history, political science, religion, art, sociology, psychology, economics, and science.
The event was scheduled to take place at Babson College in Wellesley—a beautiful campus located about an hour away from our high school in Revere, MA. I was thrilled by the idea. How great would it be for my students to listen to some of the brightest minds in the country and visit the campus of a world-class institution?!
My head was spinning. What an amazing opportunity this could be! How could I make it happen? The price tag was steep: $225 per person. At that price, I couldn’t even afford to send one kid. And my students —80 percent of whom receive free or reduced lunch and live at or below the poverty level— could certainly not pay for it themselves.
Fortunately, I’ve never been shy when it comes to asking for things I know will benefit my students. I found the contact information for One Day University (or ODU, as they called it), and decided to call Steven Schragis, the President and cofounder, to explain my situation.
Much to my delight, Steven immediately agreed to give me 15 free passes! I was overwhelmed— and so excited. I quickly announced the field trip to my students and handed out permission slips. Attendance was on a first-come, first-served basis. Several students called their parents that same day and asked them to sign their permission slips in the parking lot so they could race back, hand them in, and secure their spot.
One Day University gave my students a little introduction to college life. It was more exciting and stimulating than we ever dreamed. Listening to my students thoroughly discuss each topic on the bus on the way home thrilled me because I knew they had just enjoyed an unparalleled learning experience. ODU piqued their curiosity about topics from global warming to race and ethnic relations.
My students especially enjoyed the Q&A portion. When a Columbia University professor spoke about the Arab-Israeli conflict, my student, Hanan Kadri, was eager to ask questions. Hanan experienced the military conflict between Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel firsthand because she lived in Ghaze, a border town in Lebanon that was a frequent target of attack. Hanan articulated her questions clearly and effectively, and a great discussion ensued.
After the lecture, Hanan and I went to thank the professor. He asked Hanan which university she taught at. I think he was a little surprised when I told him that Hanan was a junior in high school.
Several of my students wrote their college essays about ODU, and many more applied to the colleges represented by the ODU professors. Richie Leng attended nearly every ODU event, and when we spoke recently about the experience, he said, “With those top professors offering insights and current research in their fields, I became much more curious— a curiosity which helped me be successful in college.” Richie applied to Brown College and graduated this past May.
Over the course of two years, my students attended ODU—for free—every time it came to Babson College. Each time Steven provided us with free tickets and free lunch. However, in 2008, after the economic downturn, ODU changed its business model. The event stayed mostly in New York City. I was devastated, and so were my students. But over the next few years, I kept in touch with Steve, letting him know that I was still teaching and that I was hoping that ODU would one day return to Boston.
Just a few weeks ago, I got my wish. While eating lunch at a local restaurant, I was browsing through the Boston Globe, and there it was: a full-page advertisement for One Day University. This year, eight professors will be speaking on a variety of interesting and exciting topics, including ”The Science of Happiness” and “Everything You Must Know About Sleep (But Were Too Tired to Ask).”
I’m not lying when I tell you that my hands were shaking as I dashed off an email to Steve on my iPhone. But by the time my sandwich came, I had my answer: Revere High School was welcomed back—again, for free— to One Day University. The event is Sunday, September 21st, and my students and I can’t wait.