Elon Academy hosts Omicron cohort scholars for on-campus orientation

The 22 students of the Elon Academy's 14th cohort came to campus for a two-day orientation that replaced the program's typical summer enrichment program.

The Elon Academy is officially ushering in its 14th cohort this week, with the group of Alamance County students beginning its journey through the university’s college access and success program.

Adapting the program’s traditional start due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy welcomed the 22 rising high school sophomores of its Omicron cohort to campus for a two-day orientation event Thursday. The program was an abbreviated version of the four-week, live-in summer enrichment program that cohort members typically partake in each year.

John Pickett, Elon Academy assistant director of scholar support, addresses students ahead of the two-day event for the Omicron cohort. (Photo: Kim Walker)

With concerns surrounding the global pandemic, Elon Academy staff felt it was important for its newest cohort to feel the support of the program that will help guide each student toward their goal of a college education.

“I think it’s more important than ever for us to gather this year, especially as students are learning remotely,” said John Pickett, Elon Academy assistant director of scholar support. “I’m really happy that we’re still able to partner with the families and provide that support.”

Upon arrival, cohort members went through screening procedures, including a questionnaire and temperature check, to ensure the safety of all attendees of this year’s program. Following check-in, the group gathered inside LaRose Student Commons for a welcome and introduction event – the group’s first opportunity to get to know their fellow cohort members and the staff they’ll be in close contact with over the next seven years.

“It’s really important to set that foundation of relationships because they really lean on each other not only in the three years in high school, but particularly when they go off to college,” Pickett said. “They may go to different institutions, but they still have the network of support.”

Elon Academy, part of the university’s Center for Access and Success, recruits a new class of rising high school sophomores each year to join the year-round program meant to support students throughout their journey toward a college degree. This year’s cohort was selected from 130 applicants from high schools across Alamance County.

After checking in and passing a health screening, students and their families posed for photos ahead of Thursday’s event. (Photo: Kim Walker)

Many of this year’s students met for the first time ever on day one of the on-campus orientation. Following their health screenings, members of the cohort gathered outside LaRose, getting to know each other and preparing for the thrilling road ahead.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Omar Illesca Reyes, a student at Williams High School in Burlington, North Carolina. “I’m pretty nervous, but I have a good feeling.”

Eastern Alamance High School rising sophomore Tashawna Garner shared that sentiment and said she was eager to begin her work in the Academy. “I’m looking forward to this opportunity to learn new things and meet new people,” she said.

The Elon Academy serves students and families without a history of college graduates and with financial barriers to pay for college. With its newest cohort, the program has supported more than 400 local students in their pursuit of a college education. To date, 100 percent of scholars who have completed the high school phase of the program have been accepted to college.

Typically, the Academy’s summer programming brings students to live on campus for four weeks as they take college planning classes and college-level courses taught by Elon faculty. The purpose of the summer program is to help students prepare for the rigors of a college education, as well as the expectations of college professors. Students spend the four weeks focusing on reading composition, writing, problem-solving and critical thinking. Students also take part in community service and personal growth opportunities and travel around the state to visit other college campuses.

This summer’s two-day program centered on self-reflection, as students took part in activities focused on their values and goals. Students also engaged in a number of academic programs and performed team-building exercises meant to strengthen relationships between cohort members.

Members of the cohort took part in a variety of activities meant to engage them in self-reflection and team-building. (Photo: Kim Walker)

During one of its icebreaker activities, the cohort stood in a circle, and students were asked to step to the center of that circle whenever they identified with questions such as “have you ever walked out of a bad movie early?” The game was meant to show students just how much they have in common with each other.

“I really didn’t expect this year to be able to do something because of the current pandemic, but since we’re able to come together and learn things about each other it’s been very interesting and very fun,” said Daniel Espinosa, a rising sophomore at River Mill Academy in Graham, North Carolina.

The two-day session is just the beginning of the cohort’s Elon Academy experience. Along with the summer program each year, students will visit campus once a month for the next three years to discuss a variety of topics related to life in college. Families are also welcomed to campus several times throughout the year to keep them engaged in their student’s journey to college.

Cohort members will also have access to a team of near-peer mentors. The mentors, 25 Elon University students, work and meet with the high school students at least three times each semester to help them research colleges and scholarships and offer any other support the students need. Academic coaches are also on standby for Academy students who need support in a particular course.

The Elon Academy will begin the process of selecting its 15th cohort in the fall. Learn more about the application process here.

The Omicron Class of the Elon Academy

  • Ja’Mera Adams (Western Alamance High School)
  • Genesis Beltran (Graham High School)
  • Kaylen Breeze (Williams High School)
  • Madi Ceesay (Eastern Alamance High School)
  • Jaylem Cheek (Williams High School)
  • Isabella DiBenedetto (Southern Alamance High School)
  • Katelyn Emory (Alamance-Burlington Early College)
  • Daniel Espinosa (River Mill Academy)
  • Tashawna Garner (Eastern Alamance High School)
  • Jahaziel Herberth Martinez (Alamance-Burlington Early College)
  • Edward Hernandez (Alamance-Burlington Early College)
  • Shania Hester (Eastern Alamance High School)
  • Omar Illesca Reyes (Williams High School)
  • Maria Jimenez Tellez (Graham High School)
  • Jordan Lambert (Western Alamance High School)
  • Ema Mays (River Mill Academy)
  • Christen McAdoo (Graham High School)
  • Litzy Mora-Hernandez (Williams High School)
  • Cooper Oates (Williams High School)
  • José Pahua Bejar (Graham High School)
  • Daysi Pacheco Paredes (Graham High School)
  • Kiara “Kiwi” Vera Rodriguez (Western Alamance High School)