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I’m often asked why I teach, but don’t have summers off. Well, I enjoy teaching every summer because my course is so fulfilling and my students motivate me.

I work in higher education and my field is developmental education. I help first-year students develop the skills necessary to succeed in college. My job includes teaching in the pre-college summer program required of students in New York State’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP).

I love my summer course (“Introduction to College Reading”) because of the hundreds of HEOP students I’ve been privileged to teach. Let me tell you about a few. One student from West Africa never attended school until age 14. After immigrating to the United States, he graduated from a Rochester high school. Now a college junior, he is thrilled to be learning and is doing well for a 22-year-old with only eight years of formal education.

Some summers ago, I taught two recovering alcoholics. They started college in their early 30s, highly motivated to change their lives. HEOP gave them that chance. After graduating, one became a successful accountant; the other, a high-level administrator at a well-known nonprofit.

Many of my former summer program students eventually earn graduate degrees, and Facebook and Linked In help me follow their progress. One student who entered college after serving in the Gulf War spent many hours working with me. Eventually he earned a master’s degree and is now a successful physical therapist. Another is pursuing his doctorate while working as a high-level administrator in a government agency that impacts youth. Other former students are respected nurses, teachers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, military personnel and social workers.

HEOP makes college a reality for economically and educationally disadvantaged students. Although these students have the ability to succeed in college, they may have attended underperforming high schools, may speak English as a second or third language or may have been out of school for a time. Some lack family support. All lack economic advantages.

HEOP’s summer program is demanding. This residential program spans about five weeks, with three courses that meet daily followed by mandatory evening study hours. The program in which I teach also includes service hours. Students begin the program right after high school graduation, and many are away from home for the first time. When the program ends, they have only a few weeks of vacation before fall semester. This summer program takes real dedication for students – and for us instructors. But it very effectively prepares students for the rigors of college.

HEOP is funded by our state tax dollars, and I believe it is money well spent. Yes, some students leave and don’t finish college. But some college is better than no college.

I’m eager to meet my new class of pre-freshmen in July and follow their progress during and after college. I’m fortunate to spend my summer playing a small part in helping capable but disadvantaged young people take that first step into higher education – and to changing their lives.