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It was determined early in the planning process that a truly innovative curriculum would be an integral part of the EXCEL program. It was concluded that students would not be challenged if content too closely resembled the “regular” school curriculum. The following themes have been developed over the years: The Aging Process, Ethnic America, Global Cities, The Civil Rights and Human Rights Movement, and Global Diversity, including the Partnership for Educational Awareness and Cultural Exchange (the PEACE Program). In terms of academic skills and development, writing is a major emphasis, although the curriculum changes as needed.
The first-year curriculum, "Ethnic America," a two-week writing-intensive Institute on the campus of The University of Toledo, guides development of critical composition skills during students’ first Summer Institute. In addition to improving other communication skills (reading, listening, speaking and summarizing), classes introduce students to the variety of ethnic and cultural groups who make up the population of the United States, and Toledo, in particular. Previously, the "Aging Process" curriculum emphasized appreciation of contributions made by older members of society, present and past. Seniors discussed issues of aging, to allow students to reflect upon related ideas and questions presented. Students have worked on an oral history project by interviewing senior citizens and collecting stories of their lives. Benefits of these studies have included positive intergenerational experiences, and greater awareness of the process of maturation throughout life.
The second-year curriculum, "Global Cities," enhances student problem-solving, analytical, reasoning, and computer-literacy skills. Students learn about demographic changes as well as social and political issues associated with urban life in six metropolitan areas of the world: Chicago, Johannesburg, Beijing, Mexico City, Sydney, and Paris. Students continue to enhance their creative writing skills and begin to develop technical writing skills by creating science and business reports. In relation to this Institute, students have concentrated their studies on particular urban areas, observing characteristics of urban life, and visiting museums, government offices, criminal justice centers and other places related to their studies of metropolitan life. Over the years, EXCEL students in this Institute have concentrated on Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in studying the “Urban World/Urban Tapestries” theme.
The third-year curriculum, “On Civil Rights: Struggles and Progress,” is designed to improve students' critical thinking and research skills as they learn important lessons of their history. The curriculum involves classes and ethnographic field studies on Civil Rights, investigating movements related to African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American or Native American Experiences. Students visit important historical sites, interview living history makers, create visual and print documents to be presented to the community, and learn the dramatic stories of Civil Rights activists and their contributions and struggles to change this country.
The fourth-year curriculum on "Global Diversity" allows students to concentrate on “Human Rights in the Global Community” as they explore struggles for human dignity in a world of expanding technology and shrinking natural resources. Students gain insight into the effects of history, geography, and politics on the human rights of individuals. The cultural and academic enrichment gained enables students to better understand how their career aspirations might connect with international opportunities. After field studies in Mexico, the PEACE Project was implemented, linking TOLEDO EXCEL students with students in Western and Southern Africa. In April 1998, EXCEL students and staff participated in a field study in Beijing, China.
The fifth Summer Institute, “Bridging the Gap: Transitioning from High School to University Life,” helps smooth student transition from high school to college life at The University of Toledo. EXCEL students may enroll in college-level courses for University credit and an advanced beginning to their academic programs. Rising seniors may enroll in a college composition course where they write essays for use in publications related to EXCEL's ongoing Oral History and Civil Rights Projects.
TOLEDO EXCEL is adding to its academic support programming to focus more on math and science based career tracks. The six career tracks offered to students are Pharmacy, Engineering, Education (specifically math and science education), the Sciences, Humanities and Business. Students who have no expressed interest in a specific career will be involved in a Career Aspiration track designed to help them explore and decide upon other career options. This addition of career track curriculum was made because 73% of EXCEL high school graduates aspire to math and science based careers, but many are unable to complete the required curriculum due to deficiencies in their math and science backgrounds.
During the summer and academic year all career track programming emphasizes reading and writing across the curriculum, as well as academic content reflective of each career track. Mathematics, some area of Science and computer science in addition, field trips, career exploration activities, community service projects will be planned on the basis of career fields. Career tracks also will incorporate advanced technology in the classroom and other educational activities. This early career focus and preparation will be a springboard for academic and professional development and will help in bridging the gap between our students’ academic abilities and professional aspirations.
TOLEDO EXCEL offers students a wide range of assistance including consistent academic support. EXCEL students who receive lower than a “B” in a high school course are offered tutoring to assist them in their studies; those who receive below a “C” are required to come for tutoring. During the school year, EXCEL students attend academic sessions including Saturday School, which focus on skills to prepare them for college, i.e., problem solving, critical thinking, critical analysis, creative writing, etc. Saturday School is designed to offer supplemental academic instruction in Math, English, Science and Computers to increase each student’s skill, ability, comprehension, and confidence levels in these academic areas. EXCEL freshman and sophomores are required to participate in at least two (2) different supplemental instruction courses during the academic year. EXCEL junior and senior students are encouraged to register for these courses if they are having difficulty or would like to have additional instruction. At two Academic Weekend Retreats, students from all EXCEL groups meet overnight to work together on projects or attend sessions on issues of critical importance to today’s minority youth. Personal and group counseling sessions also are provided to students and their families, along with workshops on career exploration, financial aid and college admissions.
In addition to the intensive academic year programming, each EXCEL student also performs a minimum of 25 hours of voluntary community service each year, providing assistance to various organizations and agencies. Tutoring and assisting individuals preparing for the GED, tutoring in elementary schools, working with the American Red Cross, Boys and Girls Clubs, assisting at nursing homes, day care centers and homeless shelters are among the types of service TOLEDO EXCEL volunteers have provided.