Each summer, the REACH Program orchestrates an intense and dynamic summer session, and this year was no exception. July 6 marked the start of REACH's 2015-2016 academic program with its annual three-week, overnight camp located on the campus of the University of Scranton (Scranton, PA).
The 120 REACH students who participated in this year's camp hailed from 63 different zip codes and 77 different grammar schools. For the newest REACH students—those 52 boys who will enter 6th grade this fall—the camp commenced just one month after being formally accepted to the program.
"Their families are asked to send their child away and, for practically every first-year child in the program, this is the first time they'll be spending a night away from their family," said Alan Garcia, REACH's Dean of Student Recruiting and Admissions. "For the overwhelming majority of these boys, they are the first in the family to step foot on a college campus."
For the 2nd and 3rd year REACH students—those entering 7th and 8th grade in the fall—Camp REACH was a continuation of their ongoing REACH experience. By the time they arrived at the Scranton campus, they had already spent 20 full Saturdays earlier in the academic year with REACH teachers.
The typical day at Camp REACH includes an early morning wake-up, prayer, community meals, group outings, and a plethora of academic lessons, which include reading, writing, grammar, math, civitas, music, and Latin, to name a few.
"We teach them to be open to growth, we encourage them to be intellectually skillful and more faithful, and we pray with them that they become more loving and ultimately see their talents as gifts from God to be given back to the community," said Fr. Powell.
(Pictured: Fr. Mario Powell, SJ celebrating mass with REACH students)
"After classes are over each day, we teach them how to play sports as a team with support and encouragement for their weakest members and humility for the most talented. We feed them a well-balanced and nutritional dinner followed by a reading period and study hall. After some time for evening recreation, our collegians ready them for bed. Before they go to bed, they pray in groups using the Examen," added Fr. Powell.
"Out of this experience, students get the entire repository of Ignatian pedagogy, spirituality, and reflection, seven days a week for three straight weeks. What we offer in its most concentrated form and execution is a massive dose of Jesuit education."
Doug Eickman, REACH's Academic Dean for Mathematics, describes the experience spent at the REACH summer camp as precious time.
"It's the best time we have as teachers and administrators to really add some value to their education," said Eickman, who also serves as a teacher in the Regis Mathematics department.
"The beauty of the camp is that we really get to see everything in a kid's day: his routines in the dorms, his social interaction, his classroom performance, his leadership abilities, his study and homework habits, and his ability to unwind and reflect on a day. The kids have the benefit of being away from their cell phones and being with others who really care about accomplishing their goals, and that combination produces some pretty awesome results."
Fr. Powell says he has begun using the phrase "changes trajectories" when people ask him about the impact of the REACH experience.
"If we are doing our job right," he said, "then we are given the opportunity to change the trajectory of each student's future. In every little bit that we do—with every piece of encouragement, every lesson plan, every side conversation, every field trip, every day spent in chapel, every moment of prayer, and with every tired bone in our bodies—we recognize that these three weeks are game-changing."
Since returning to New York on July 27, students have spent the ensuing three weeks back at Regis where REACH faculty have reinforced the skills and lessons learned, and have begun to prepare them for the fall Saturday sessions that begin mid-September.
For Fr. Powell, the time at Scranton is the time when he most feels like a pastor.
"My teaching takes place in the chapel and on the playing field. My vocabulary is a mixture of Ignatian pedagogy and sports psychology. I preach in the chapel, but also on the soccer field encouraging them to be their better selves. I attend to the spiritual needs of our camp, but also help students encounter and move beyond home-sickness, a loss of pride, anger, and injury. Being around these students for such an intense three-week period allows me to get to know them beyond their grades. This is privileged time for me."
Founded in 2002, REACH serves middle-school students of high potential who are in financial need and who live in at-risk areas of the New York Metropolitan area. More than 80% of students are the sons of immigrant parents, with many speaking a language other than English at home. Students participate in a tuition-free educational and leadership program that prepares them to earn scholarships to leading Catholic high schools in New York City. Throughout the year, accelerated classes define the REACH academic program.
The results speak for themselves. Over the past 14 years, REACH alumni have gone on to attend top Catholic high schools and selective public high schools throughout New York City. 99% of REACH alumni who have attended a Catholic high school have won a four year academic scholarship or need-based grant, with an annual total average of over $1.5 million. 96% of REACH alumni have enrolled in a 4-year college or university and, in 85% of their households, they will be the first male to graduate from college.