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Seventeen-year-old Lilly Reilly spends most summers relaxing at her home in southern Mississippi, watching television, playing video games, and enjoying other “teenager stuff.” This summer, Lilly upped the game on her summer activities. She visited two state colleges, spent the night in a dorm, took ACT preparation classes, and learned ways to pay for college.

Those activities were part of Camp College, a free, week-long program funded by the Mississippi-based Woodward Hines Education Foundation, which runs the camp at three locations around the state each summer. This year, nearly 120 minority and low-income high school students participated. The goal is to help students who are less likely to go to college learn how to get there — and how to pay for it. In addition to getting help with the ACT, students learn how to budget for college, research which majors are most applicable for various careers, and spend the night in a dorm at a local state college.

Daniela Griffin, who oversees Jackson’s Camp College, said the program attempts to show students that there are ways to get to college, even if the odds are against them. “We get them to really think about how, although ‘you have this barrier, this is standing in your way, there’s a chance. It’s an opportunity for us to help [them] do better than that current circumstance that [they] see as a hindrance.”

For Lilly, the most helpful part of Camp College was the one-on-one help she received from the camp’s teachers, who worked with her on strategies for taking the English portion of the ACT. At her high school in southern Mississippi, ACT prep courses are often filled with dozens of students, all demanding the teacher’s attention; Lilly was never able to get the help she needed. After the summer program, Lilly took her ACT and scored a 24, far higher than the state average of 18.6. Later this year she plans to retake the test and aim for a 27 or 28.

The need for more low-cost and free summer programs in Mississippi is clear, according to a report released early this summer by the Center for American Progress. That report found families in the state spend an average of nearly $2,000 for just five weeks of enrollment in a summer learning program. That cost amounts to 16 percent of the median summer income for a two-parent household and more than double what is considered affordable by the federal government.

Some students who attended Camp College in previous years said the program was instrumental in getting them to college. Eighteen-year-old Deonte Spencer, who attended in 2017, graduated from Callaway High School in Jackson this spring and will attend Hinds Community College in the fall, where he will also play on the basketball team. He said officials from Camp College sat down and helped him fill out his financial aid forms, his college applications, and helped him search for scholarships. Eventually, Spencer hopes to become a basketball coach.

“It’s a good program,” Spencer said. Without it, “I wouldn’t be at Hinds right now.”

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