FOCUS student Catherine Bentley participates in an icebreaker while other students and college leaders look on. Credit: Dylan Staley
Recently, the student-run Honors College organization FOCUS (Focusing on College and Unlimited Success) held its annual college immersion program for ninth graders from local under-resourced schools. Funded through grants and donations, FOCUS aims to preserve the humanities programs often cut from school curricula by allowing students to take workshops and seminars in dance, music, art, theatre, philosophy, and creative writing.
For the participating college leaders and high school students, FOCUS 2011 was hectic, exhilarating, challenging, emotional, and even life changing. Since those adjectives only provide a vague approximation of the experience, it is fitting that the participants should tell the story of FOCUS in their own words.
Bryan Amato, Group Two Leader, age 20
When we arrived on that first morning, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. Sure, we had taken a class in preparation for the program, but nothing compares to actually experiencing it. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be interacting with the students, or how comfortable they would be around me. Once it was time to meet my group, however, I pushed all of those thoughts to the back of my mind and focused on getting to know everyone.
Going to the LSU Challenge Course on the first day really helped all of us to become completely at ease with one another … The students’ willingness to not only try something new (and incredibly scary), but also to support each other in doing so was truly an inspiration for me. It was only day one, and I was already proud of them.
Elizabeth Clausen, Art Seminar Leader, age 20
Once the first few days were over, I was no longer stressing out over my lesson plans or worrying about whether or not I was qualified to be teaching the material. I expected to encounter resistance, because learning to draw can be very frustrating, but the positive attitudes of all of my students helped me to be more excited than nervous.
Thursday’s “Recycled Fashion Show” competition was definitely one of the highlights of the camp so far, because it showed me just how creative all of the students really are. One of the students who had chosen art as his FOCUS area made a dress out of newspaper and duct tape that blew everyone away. I made a mental note to make sure his final project involved fashion.
Saturday was the day of our field trip, and it was nice to spend an entire day having fun with the students. We started off with a private tour of Tiger Stadium and later toured Magnolia Mound Plantation and LPB before ending the day with dinner at a nice sushi restaurant. Even though it was a lot of fun, I’m still glad we all have Sunday off — our daily routine of waking up at 7 a.m. and working until 10:30 at night isn’t easy to do!
Stephanie Fuqua, Director, age 20
By the second week of FOCUS, the students had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do in each seminar — they would debate in philosophy, practice choreography in dance, and learn different musical styles in music. Last year, I went to practically every seminar, but that isn’t possible when you’re a director. Our duty is to make sure the program runs as smoothly as it possibly can!
By Wednesday, the students and college leaders were starting to realize that there were only two days left, and we all tried to make the most of our time. I didn’t want FOCUS to end; this was my second year, which means my last year to be able to work with the program that ultimately changed my life. What was I going to do without it?
Day 12 (Final FOCUS Friday)
Dakelshia Banks, Student, age 15
To me, the last few days of FOCUS were the most challenging and fun days out of the whole two weeks, mainly because we had to work harder those last days so that our Final FOCUS Friday performances could be the best ones LSU had ever seen.
Those last three days were also the saddest. None of us wanted this amazing trip to end … I was missing my family, but I had grown to like and love these people I had learned so much about. My roommate, Ebonee, became somewhat like a sister to me — we talked about anything and everything. Everyone at FOCUS was very talented in his or her own special way, whether it was in theater, philosophy, dance, art, music, or my personal favorite — creative writing. We were like one big family.
FOCUS has a lot of great opportunities — you find out how talented you are, it helps you find your inner college student, and it helps you think on a higher level. My FOCUS experience was stupendous — the leaders and my peers were the best. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of active, fun, intelligent, and caring people. This was absolutely the best summer of my life.
For more information on FOCUS, visit http://www.lsu.edu/student_organizations/focus/