By Kristin Boza
Gap years — when a fresh high school graduate takes a year off before starting college — are becoming more and more common, and for good reason. Research shows that the more prepared students are for the rigors of a college program, the more likely they are to graduate on time and with the necessary skills to find a job in their field of work.
Marsha Familaro Enright, a Beverly/Morgan Park resident and founder of Council Oak Montessori, is embarking on a new endeavor with the Great Connections Leap Year, an individualized program designed to help young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 learn new skills and gain new experiences before they begin college. Enright previously ran the Great Connections Summer and Weekend Seminars for the last 10 years; the success of that program encouraged her to offer a nine-month program to make an even greater impact in a person’s gap year.
“We aim to give our students a learning environment that is optimal for what they need to develop at their level,” Enright said. “It’s so concerning to see the statistics that college graduates have so much debt and are still not able to get a good job. I was so concerned about this and worried that students aren’t exposed to the best material in high school regarding how to reason well and independently.”
Students in Enright’s program will gather to read and discuss a full range of ideas – from political, psychological and social to art and writing. Students are pushed to make decisions about what they think is right or wrong based on the texts they’re studying, not based on what someone else is telling them to think.
“We put together a curriculum that allows our students to reflect on crucial issues. Then, we use the discussion methodology to develop reasoning skills,” Enright said. “In the discussion methodology, the teacher is not putting forth opinions or telling the students what to think about what they’re reading; instead, the teachers are there to guide the student to figure out the truth for themselves. It’s a fantastic way to strengthen independent judgment and reasoning.”
Students will end up developing self-confidence to help them thrive in college — or trade school or the working world, whatever they are seeking to do after high school. “When you’re an adult, you don’t have people telling you what to do. We want to increase young people’s autonomy to make these decisions on their own,” Enright said.
Mixed in with these classroom discussions are trips downtown to look at art, architecture, and learn about Chicago’s history as a way to connect the ideas to practical life; the students even try their hand at improv comedy. “We try to incorporate fun things with what we’re doing in the classroom; we want our students to identify and understand the ideas around them so they can choose what ideas they want to live by.”
The Great Connections Leap Year is hosting a Preview Day on Sat., Sept. 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at their facility, 11107 S. Longwood Dr. It is free to attend and lunch will be served. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-677-6418.