Kevin Zeno, an Educational Talent Search junior at Burncoat High School in Worcester, is spending seven weeks at Princeton University this summer as a Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) Scholar. LEDA is a national program dedicated to developing the academic and leadership potential of talented high school students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. (Read how he earned this honor here.) Each week, Kevin sends us a report of his activities along with a photo.
Week One 06/18/2016-06/25/2016
My first week at Princeton University as a LEDA Scholar has undoubtedly been the best seven days of my life. Prior to arriving, I felt extremely nervous, as anyone would, about living with strangers from all over the country for seven weeks. However, all of my anxieties and fears disappeared once I started meeting the other scholars. Every single scholar here is similar to me in one way or another, which has made Forbes College a very comfortable place for me. Despite it being very easy for us to distract ourselves by socializing, LEDA leaves no room for slacking. The morning after our first day, we all had to wake up extremely early to take SAT/ACT diagnostic tests; some scholars even had to fight through their jet lag. Following our tests, all of us received a tour of the campus and the very famous Nassau Street of Princeton, New Jersey. Despite my slight disappointment about the absence of a Dunkin Donuts nearby, Nassau Street is definitely one of the livelier locations in the area. The day after taking this test was my first day in my Aspects of Leadership class, a class that turned out to be my favorite class. We touched upon social justice issues such as microaggressions, systemic racism, sexism, prisons in the United States, etc. This class was truly amazing for me because of the way it was coordinated: we had a facilitator who organized role-plays and sparked up discussions, but most of the conversations were carried out by us scholars. Hearing everybody’s perspectives was something that I appreciated very much. It is not very often that my teachers at school ask students to be open about their opinions, views, and ideologies. Most importantly, I loved this class because I was not alone on social justice issues. When I’m back home, the number of people who I can speak to about social justice issues is very limited. Here at LEDA, the case is the complete opposite. Aside from Aspects of Leadership, we take writing classes on Tuesdays and Fridays, and test prep classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While managing this very busy schedule, the LEDA staff has continuously encouraged us to practice self-care because getting enough sleep and rest here can be quite a challenge.
Week Two 06/26/2016-07/02/2016
Just when I thought this experience could not get better along came week two. Throughout the first week, I was starting to feel at home. However, this week has brought the feeling up several notches. Sunday afternoon we were able to enjoy Princeton’s indoor swimming pool. Somehow we all started a game of water polo (a sport which I knew nothing about) and it ended up getting very competitive. After our trip to the pool, the week ran smoothly on schedule, for the most part. We had Aspects of Leadership on Monday, SAT and Writing on Tuesday, Aspects of Leadership on Wednesday, Aspects of Leadership and SAT on Thursday, and Writing and Aspects of Leadership on Friday. However, on Wednesday we had to say goodbye to our Aspects of Leadership Rotation One Classes. That day turned out to be very emotional for my class, considering my class developed a very strong connection through the conversations we had in class. Nobody was afraid to share their opinion or talk about personal experiences and it was very hard to let go of that environment. Despite having an excellent first rotation, my second rotation facilitator did not fail to welcome the new class with open arms and I loved that. Outside of our classes, we didn’t have too much going on, besides homework, so my friends and I resorted to volleyball during the day and card games every night until curfew. After four weekdays of going to class and playing card games at night, Friday approached and it was time to get ready for the LEDA Olympics. Friday night, all ten teams stayed out until curfew painting T-shirts and banners for the team. The next day, we all woke up bright and early ready for the competition. The LEDA Olympics event is a tradition here at LEDA where all ten teams battle through various different activities to win the crown. Although my team came in ninth place, we maintained our team spirit and it was an unforgettable experience.
Week Three 07/03/2016-07/09/2016
This week turned out to be extremely eventful and busy. Nonetheless, every week I find more and more reasons to appreciate this program and every single person here. My friends and I began the week with yet another trip to Princeton’s pool. Once again, it resulted in a very competitive game of water polo. I guess you could say that we’re all rivals while in the water, but inseparable outside of the pool. Later on that day, most of us just stuck to reading for the following Aspects of Leadership class as usual. Monday, July 4th, we had an Aspects of Leadership class that was ran as it normally is. However, our facilitators had something different planned for us after our lunch break. The whole cohort gathered in one of Princeton’s many lecture halls/auditoriums and we were introduced to the activity for the afternoon. Every Aspects of Leadership class was to produce a 5-7 minute demonstration as to what Independence Day actually means for them. Performances ranged from being comical to being chilling; it was a great learning experience for all. Right after class, almost the whole entire cohort went into hiding to complete an essay. Monday through Tuesday went smoothly with regards to classes and the normal schedule. Then came our big day on Wednesday. On Wednesday, we went on our first college trip to Pennsylvania! In Pennsylvania, we visited the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College. Personally, I fell in love with the University of Pennsylvania and it has maintained its position as my top choice school. Later on that night, the LEDA staff held a healing space welcome to all scholars with regards to Alton Sterling. The space was created specifically for healing purposes and they discouraged any educational conversations or debate, which I think is very great. Thursday and Friday classes followed the regular schedule. However, on Friday, we had to say goodbye to our Aspects of Leadership classes yet again; Friday marked the end of Rotation Two. On Saturday, all one hundred of us had to be up bright and early to take SATs/ACTs. After four long hours of testing, we were finally freed. However, Princeton’s weather was not really up to par so there wasn’t much to do. I spent most of the day getting homework done until 7:30 pm. In the evening, we had community time that was required for all scholars. Although community time is required every Saturday, this community time was special because it was focused on culture. Several different scholars volunteered to present their experiences with traditional culture to us. After watching these scholars in awe, I went back to our dormitory to battle four other teams in a game of trivia. My team managed to excel on all eight categories of the trivia game and took the crown home!