PAYS scholars attend small classes (approximately 15 students) taught by Pomona College faculty during their summers as rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The faculty work with Pomona College students who serve as program teaching assistants (TAs). Each summer, every PAYS scholar participates in two core faculty-taught courses, Math/Problem Solving and Critical Inquiry: Analysis and Writing.
The mathematics faculty focus on developing scholars' problem solving skills. Scholars work on problem sets that review mathematical concepts from the past school year, as well as those requiring the exercise of reasoning abilities and a willingness to work through a range of possible solutions. Students are given at least one hands-on exercise each week that involves collecting and plotting data.
The writing faculty assign college-level material including poetry, journal articles, and textbook selections, all related to a common theme. For example, in summer 2009, the PAYS scholars considered several questions in their readings: What does it mean to be a person of my race in today's world? How does the economy impact race? What do we learn by looking at the intersections of race, economy, and environment? As is common in liberal arts colleges, students are expected to actively contribute to class discussion.
In addition to the math and critical inquiry courses, each scholar chooses two electives taught by Pomona College students and PAYS alumni who serve as teaching assistants. This summer's electives included: The Impacts of Race, Gender, and Politics in Science and Sports, Illicit Trade: The Black Market and You, Self-Care is Personal, Dance to Express, Not to Impress, and The Stories That Shape Us.
Beyond the faculty-taught courses and the TA-led electives, rising seniors are given the rare opportunity to engage on a significant research project under the direction of a Pomona College faculty member. Scholars who will be entering their senior year will spend 10-15 hours per week taking part in these projects, which culminate with a poster presentation of their research findings at the closing ceremony. Past areas of research have included Math, Chemistry, Sociology, and Theater. Last summer's research projects included: Computational Chemistry, Critical Environmentalism and the Search for Justice, and Fertilization and Eggshell Formation in the Nematode Worm.
In fostering a sense of community among participants, PAYS provides several organized social activities. Featured activities have included karaoke nights, basketball and soccer games, pool parties, and a talent show. In-residence students are treated to nightly activities such as board games and outdoor activities. All scholars attend Friday field trips to, for example, an Angels game, the Museum of Tolerance or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Year-Round Academic Enrichment and College Guidance Programming
We have found that it is crucial for PAYS scholars to continue to be connected to faculty and student mentors after the end of the residential summer program. During the school year, the assistant director meets with the family of each junior in PAYS. In the early fall, Pomona College student “college advisors” are assigned to each senior high school student to assist them throughout the process of applying to college and for financial aid. PAYS offers a variety of supportive, individual and small group meetings throughout the year to support seniors with college application process. In the fall, these meetings focus on the needs of seniors for whom the college admissions process looms urgently. Meeting topics include college selection and the college application process; writing a strong application essay; selecting and approaching recommenders and preparing effective information packages for them. In addition, staff members of Pomona's admissions office lead college admissions workshops to prepare students for admission to highly selective colleges.
Bilingual (Spanish/English) financial aid workshops for students and their parents form another important component of the year-round academic support program provided by PAYS. Evaluative surveys of PAYS participants have consistently shown that the bilingual financial aid information sessions have provided crucial information on financing a college education. Many students from low income families have never even considered attending a private college because they fear they will not be able to afford college tuition. However, Pomona College admits students entirely based upon their academic merits and talents and is committed to meeting each student's full financial need, and many peer colleges have similar policies in place. An education at a highly selective liberal arts college can be more affordable for a student from a low income family than attending a public university. It is essential that students from low income backgrounds be told that a private liberal arts education is a valid option for them.
For PAYS Juniors, PAYS provides a 10-week comprehensive SAT preparation program through Veritas Prep. As a result of this training, PAYS students have consistently performed above the average on each section of the SAT compared to other students at their high schools.