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In Wingate University improv class, Wayfind Scholars prepare for college in new and exciting ways

Wayfind On Nov. 19, Monroe High freshman and Wayfind Scholar Bra'den Harris took a deep breath, walked into the center of a group of her peers and then...pretended to be a machine gear. It took a few moments, but one by one her fellow Wayfind Scholars joined in, making their own unique sounds and movements until the group erupted in laughter.

The activity was one of several exercises the Wayfind Scholars participated in during their two-day crash course in improv training at Wingate University.

On the surface, it wouldn’t seem like there is much of a connection between improv and the Wayfind Program, a free college-access program and first-of-its kind college preparatory partnership between UCPS and Wingate University.

But  watching the students in action, it’s easy to see the laundry list of benefits: embracing fear, collaboration, adapting to new experiences, creativity, public speaking and more – all skills that students need to be successful in college and life.

“When people think of college, they only think about the academics part of it. With the students that we are serving, we know that given the proper resources and support they won’t have any problems academically in college,” said Wingate University Outreach and Support Coordinator Tim Myers. “Our goal is to also help them learn and develop other intangible skills to ensure their success in the future.”

Since being inducted into the Wayfind Program while in middle school, the 17 Monroe and Forest Hills high schoolers have experienced a whirlwind of one-of-a-kind experiences.

They’ve been paired with mentors, started to create a road map for college planning, and spent the past several months learning about career options, college costs, resources for SAT and ACT prep and more. They’re conducting case studies and are being encouraged to join extracurricular activities.

The scholars have toured colleges and stayed on Wingate University’s campus during a days-long summer camp. A Parent Academy was recently launched, providing the students’ family with additional information about the FAFSA, how to help the scholars prepare for college, ways to support their students while in college, etc.

And now, only nine months after its launch, those additional layers of support are already showing signs of paying off.

In a recent survey, 89 percent of Wayfind Scholars said they feel more supported academically, socially and emotionally. Additionally, the students are showing more confidence, curiosity and willingness to tackle new experiences, said UCPS Middle School Performance Director Dr. Bashawn Harris.

“You can’t just go into college as a straight-A student. We’re trying to develop the whole student, because it helps with getting into college, succeeding in college and later in life,” he added. “Our Wayfind Scholars are truly getting a one-of-a-kind unique experience.”

Back at the Wingate University improv class, Bra'den took a break from one of the drama exercises. The aspiring Music Theory major said an improv class isn’t one she would have traditionally picked out for herself, but she’s grown to appreciate it and is already considering taking a similar course when she enrolls in college.

“It’s been teaching us about communication and teamwork, but in a new way that we haven’t learned before,” she said. “In life, there are going to be a lot of experiences where we have to work with other people and have to be able to think and act on the spot, so I can definitely see how this improv class – and everything we’ve been doing – is going to help us in the long run.”

Posted: Nov. 22, 2019