The Ulysses S. Grant Foundation Returns to Dwight Hall

If you were to visit Dwight Hall this summer, you might be surprised by what you find. Adolescents burst from every corner of the Hall, from the chapel to the library to the common room. Breathing life into an otherwise subdued campus, they are attending the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation, a summer academic enrichment program that hosts rising sixth graders to rising ninth graders. Students are highly motivated middle schoolers and must come from public or parochial schools in New Haven.

The Ulysses S. Grant Foundation boasts a long history at Dwight Hall. Founded in 1953, the program has spent decades cultivating summers of learning and enrichment for New Haven students, focusing on their academic preparation and providing them with the skills necessary to succeed in high school and college. Notably, the program is highly subsidized with full scholarships available, intended to reach bright students who might have limited opportunities and resources to participate in summer academic enrichment activities.

Like most entities, the Grant program went virtual at the onset of the pandemic, with programming running on Zoom in the summers of 2020 and 2021. Chidima Anekwe ’24, a U.S. Grant teacher in 2021 and one of the current Co-Directors, commented on the surprising success of the virtual format. “On Zoom, I was really proud of what we were able to put together. . . We tried to get creative, making the virtual setting as fun and interactive as possible.” Activities such as Kahoot and baking lessons came alive behind the computer screen through the ingenuity of U.S. Grant’s undergraduate leaders. In the end, Chidima noted, “All the kids wanted was to come back so that they could see each other in person.” 

Back at Dwight Hall for the summer of 2022, teachers and students have adapted to an in-person setting. The U.S. Grant Foundation gains access to Dwight Hall’s facilities, resources, and funding as a Dwight Hall member group. Initially, “figuring out how to turn the Dwight Hall space into a set of classrooms that made up a legitimate school took so much thinking and deliberating,” reflected Sean Pergola ’24, U.S. Grant’s second Co-Director. Luckily, the teachers were able to do just that, converting the Dwight Hall common room, chapel, library, Social Justice Network room, and Education Network room into classrooms. At lunchtime and in the early afternoon, students also employ the Old Campus courtyard as their playground, taking in the fresh air while they take a break from their academics.

Student leadership is one of the core pillars of the Grant model, with programming resting on the shoulders of a team of Yale undergraduates. This year, eight student leaders are taking charge of the 2022 cohort. They include Chidima Anekwe ’24, Sean Pergola ’24, Ivana Ramirez ’25, Dylan Carlson ’24, Emma Lewer ’22, Sam Pletcher ’23, Taylor Russ ’24, and Sophie Huttner ’23. Chidima and Sean describe their team as “incredibly motivated”, “compatible”, and “diverse”, able to appeal to a wide array of students and personalities. Coincidentally, both Chidima and Sean were encouraged to apply to be Co-Directors through the Dwight Hall FOCUS on New Haven program, which shared the opportunity among FOCUS participants and their friends. 

One of the biggest draws of the Grant program is the staff’s ability to design and teach their courses for the summer. Many of the U.S. Grant teachers draw on their academic and professional ambitions for inspiration. For instance, Emma Lewer ’22, a recent Yale College graduate in Cognitive Science, designed a course entitled “Is This the Real Life (is This Just Fantasy): Perceptions and Illusions in the World Around Us”. In the course, Emma encourages students to consider how perception guides their experiences of the world. “The students ask great questions, and it has been wonderful seeing them become more comfortable with each other over the last several weeks,” noted Emma. 

Besides core classes and elective courses, students also partake in summer camp-like activities. A notable tradition of the program is Purdy Time, named after legendary U.S. Grant teacher Sam Purdy. Students take a break from academic learning to play sports, do arts and crafts, listen to guest speakers, and go on field trips around New Haven. Most recently, students took part in a dance workshop led by Sabrosura, Yale’s undergraduate Latin dance team, and competed in a program-wide Spelling Bee.

“I feel very lucky to be part of the U.S. Grant Program. The partnership between Yale and New Haven offers New Haven public school students to experience the Yale life, which is inspirational. This summer, I am attending Dwight Hall, the second oldest building at Yale with an incredible history, and a place that inspires students as leaders of social change. My favorite courses so far are Ethics and History of Vaccines. These life enrichment courses are making an impact in my life, teaching me to reflect on the issues that our society is facing. The U.S. Grant teachers are so enthusiastic and committed to their teaching, as well as caring for their students. I am so thrilled to be part of this program, and this will be an unforgettable experience.” -2022 U.S. Grant Student

As the summer winds down in the next few weeks, the Co-Directors reflected on the crucial role that academic enrichment programs such as Ulysses S. Grant played on their academic trajectories, particularly as a part of BIPOC and/or underserved communities. A desire to give back is evident in the way they speak about their work. “For me, education and public service were two separate but very important trends in my life,” remarked Sean. “U.S. Grant is where they’re really coming together.” 

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