More than 170 middle schoolers from Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield are taking classes at Holyoke Community College this summer as part of a program that prepares underserved and low-income students for college.
The program is called Quest (formerly Step Forward/Quest), and the students are taking classes in dance, drumming, photography, culinary arts, drama, martial arts, voice, art, leadership, math, chess, nutrition, robotics, social studies, science, physical education and English language arts. Quest scholars arrive on campus each day at 8 a.m. and stay until 4 p.m.
"This is the largest number of middle school students the Quest program has ever seen in its 20 year history -- more than 70 kids than last summer," said Denise Ward, Quest director. "We are very excited."
Quest is a grant-funded program that targets underserved and low-income students from Hampden County. Students enter the program as sixth graders, taking classes at HCC during the summer and on Saturdays throughout the academic year. They continue through middle school and high school and earn college credits. The program has a nearly 90 percent retention rate and those who finish the program as high school seniors have a 100 percent acceptance rate to college.
While the middle school program started got under way at HCC on Monday (July 15), the Quest High School Program is in full swing. High school students are at HCC taking college level courses. Another group of Quest high school students is living in dormitories at Elms College in Chicopee to experience residential life on a college campus.
The two-week Quest middle school program concludes Friday, July 26, with a festival of performances and displays at Holyoke High School, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
There will be performances of theater, dance and world beat drumming as well as a fine arts gallery featuring displays of art, photography and academics.
"This night is a true celebration and a chance to see area youth at their best," Ward said.
Photos: (Left) Quest middle-school students practice drumming at HCC. (Right) Quest student Melaica Delgado, 13, from Chicopee, samples a smoothie she made with the help of Lisa Santanello, from HCC's Culinary Arts program.