Harper Woods High students tour colleges during spring break

By: Alex Tekip | Advertiser Times | Published April 6, 2016

 Students on the college tour trip pose for a picture at Bowling Green State University.

Students on the college tour trip pose for a picture at Bowling Green State University.

Photo provided by Brandon Jackson

HARPER WOODS — Some Harper Woods High School students didn’t spend their spring break on vacation or relaxing at home.

Instead, they spent it touring the campuses of six different universities.

This is the second year in a row that students from Harper Woods, mainly juniors and seniors, have taken a spring break college tour. The tour is the culmination of a yearlong program called The Greatness Camp, which teaches students about preparing for college and puts them in a mindset for success for pursuing postsecondary education.

Brandon Jackson, CEO and owner of The Greatness Camp, held sessions with students leading up to the tours, teaching them everything from financial literacy to college readiness to how to fill out an application to ACT and SAT scores. The main goal of the sessions was to encourage students to pursue some type of education after high school.  

“Through our sessions, we’ve been able to talk with the students, identify what those strengths and weaknesses are, and allow those kids to talk about their dream,” said Jackson. “What we want to do is match up their dreams with the proper postsecondary institution that will allow their dreams to become reality and allow them to come back into their community and be citizens that are productive.”

Jackson said the students wanted to visit a mix of schools, including historically black colleges and universities. The 50 Harper Woods students on the trip toured the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Bowling Green State  University, Howard University and Hampton University, beginning on March 27, Easter Sunday. Thirty students from River Rouge High School also went on the trip, as Jackson also teaches his program there. 

Harper Woods High School Principal Schranda Collier joined the students in Washington, D.C. — home to Howard University — at the end of the trip. Collier said spring break is an ideal time for college tours because the break allows the students to have a unique, intimate experience at each school.

“When we allow them the opportunity to go on college tours during break, they have more time, so they aren’t squished into the hours of a random school day,” said Collier. “Sometimes the universities themselves are less busy, because some of the universities are on break at the same time that the schools are on break, so the students that are there, we can kind of arrange a more intimate time with them for any of the faculty and/or students that are on campus.”

One of the unique activities that Harper Woods students were able to partake in was physically walking onto Ohio State’s football field.

“They’re super excited,” said Collier. “For my athletes to be on the O-State field, that was huge.”

Collier said she has known Jackson since her college years. She witnessed the beginning of what she called his “think-tank process” that resulted in The Greatness Camp. She brought Jackson to Harper Woods Schools through a United Way grant last year.

“Our United Way representative kind of vetted the process with The Greatness Camp,” said Collier. “She even went on the tour with them last year, and so she loved everything about it. She vetted him back to United Way, and they ended up picking him up as a permanent partner.”

Jackson said he was sold on Harper Woods after having a positive conversation with Collier and Superintendent Todd Biederwolf — all three of them shared similar ideas about how to make a difference in the lives of students.

“We all sat down and just had a great conversation of how can we do something for these kids, and how can we impact their lives,” he said. “So the big part is the conversation was so rich, and we were all on the same page, that it warranted me to make sure that Harper Woods was one of the schools that I served.”

Jackson teaches his Five Steps of Greatness in seminars leading up to the tours: allowing greatness into your life, believing you are great, planning to be great, implementing a greatness plan and allowing greatness into your community. He said these steps help students realize that their dreams of attending a postsecondary institution are feasible, which then results in them being more proactive about their high school education.

“It’s a wraparound of what we’ll start to see once we start working with those students, because again, they can identify a school that they want to (go to), they can see themselves in that school, and now they have a goal that they’re setting to make sure they can attain those things,” said Jackson.

Collier said students who were on the tour texted her to share their excitement before she joined the group in Washington, D.C.

“It’s amazing to get text messages from them in the middle of the night when they’re on the bus, on the road ... getting text messages, ‘Mrs. C, thank you, we love you!’” she said. “If they never have another monumental moment like this to be a part of affording them the opportunity, it’s priceless. Definitely.”

Jackson said he stresses the idea of “growing your own crops” to the students in The Greatness Camp, encouraging kids to be themselves and make mistakes while working for their future. He said the college tours play an instrumental part in students realizing they have the potential to change the narrative about their community and one day return to give back to the place where they grew up.

“We know that these kids will grow up to be productive citizens,” he said. “They’ll come back and aspire to be part of the City Council, part of our law enforcement team, or to be lawyers and judges, productive teachers, and they will help to acclimate our society to what the young people are doing now. I just think they’ll be a huge asset.”