Campfires and College Essays: Juniors Take Control Of Their Own Stories

CG juniors around campfire in woods talk about college essays

Marien and Madison, Common Ground juniors, enjoy s’mores and share their college essay plans around a campfire in the woods of West Rock.

Last week, students in Heather Nielsen’s Junior Seminar class headed up into the woods of West Rock. Around a campfire, surrounded by elms and hosted by environmental educator Cjet Raymond, they ate smores and talked about what makes them who they are. Specifically, Heather asked them to share their college essay topics out loud – or if they weren’t sure about their topic, how they had grown in their time at Common Ground. Heather brought a talking piece, but they didn’t need it – a few students took the risk of kicking off the conversation, and others followed their lead. 

“Junior Seminar is all about students taking control of their own narratives, owning their identities,” Heather explained — and writing college essays is a critical part of that work. This fire circle talk was an important step along the way. They’d recently read an article from the New York Times about the pressure that many young people of color, first generation college students, and young people from city schools feel to “sell their pain” when they write their college essays. Today, they followed up by talking about “the hook” – the first sentence that draws your reader in –  and exploring a list of powerful ones from a list compiled by Stanford University. In between, this day in the woods – away from the glare of computer screens and the pressure of SATs – gave students a little more room to breathe, just to share. Before they leave for summer vacation, all will have a solid draft of their college essay complete. 

This moment in junior seminar is just one way that Common Ground is working to help ALL our students blaze their own pathways to college and careers, leadership and life. Last week, all our 10th graders took the short walk over to Southern Connecticut State University, where they got a tour from Jahlil, Sierra, and Ebriana — Common Ground graduates who are now college sophomores — and connected with nearly a dozen professors and programs at Southern relates to community health, the topic of their final unit of study of the year. Just a few days later, our whole school community gathered to see Twelfth Night — the culminating performance of our Shakespeare Performance class, a 3-credit Early College course offered in partnership with Elm Shakespeare Company and Southern Connecticut State University. Just the week before, our whole school was together for our first-ever Decision Day celebration, where each of our seniors declared their post-high school plans — college, advanced training, apprenticeships, straight into the workforce. This year’s seniors, their families, their guidance teachers, our student pathways team, and our whole staff have all worked incredibly hard to get to this moment.  We know that ALL of our students can graduate ready for college, with a college acceptance in hand — and we celebrate and support ALL the paths they choose after graduation!


CG alumni Jahlil, Sierra, and Ebriana share their college-going stories with Common Ground 10th graders during a day on the Southern Connecticut State University Campus

Our whole school community gathers to see Twelfth Night, the culmination of our Early College Shakespeare Performance class!

Members of our Class of 2022 declare their post-high school plans at our Decision Day celebration.



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