Daniel and Alex

A clock without a face, a really big door and a stone wedding cake: just three of the unusual things young explorers were asked to find in the grounds of St John’s College during You-niversity Day 2012, which took place on the first day of February half-term.

It’s been great to find out what it’s like to learn here.

You-niversity Day is party  of ‘Realise’ – a year-round programme tailored specifically to help raise the aspirations of young people in care and support them in their ambitions to go on to higher education.

The day began with the young explorers being welcomed to the Scott Polar Research Institute by Sophie Weeks, the Polar Museum’s Education and Outreach Officer. After learning about the polar regions and being inspired by the story of Scott’s journey to the South Pole, the students packed a ‘polar suitcase’ by going around the museum and selecting items they would take with them on a similar journey.

“We learnt about frostbite, and about all the resources that there are here in Cambridge to help you find out more about things,” explains Daniel, who had come from Kent with his friend Alex to take part in the day.

“Using inspirational stories of exploration from extreme environments to raise young people’s aspirations is a great idea,” Sophie says. “It is an important aspect of the learning programmes at the Polar Museum and one which we are keen to expand.”

In the afternoon the icy theme continued as the group crunched around a snowy St John’s College, guided by student volunteers and by Khatija Hafesji, the co-ordinator of the Realise project.

Daniel, who is interested in being a doctor, thought it was good that the colleges are an integral part of the city. “It means there are places you can go and explore when you have free time, and normal people around. It seems a really relaxed place – it’s not just stress all the time.”

“You-niversity Day is designed to give young people in care the opportunity to explore new topics that they may not have encountered yet in school, to meet other young people in their situation who share their aspirations of going to University, and hopefully to give them confidence and a sense of possibility to take forward,” Khatija explains.

Alex has come on the day as Daniel’s buddy, a nominated friend or classmate who may not be in care themselves but knows and is supportive of their friend’s situation. “We didn’t know these days were available until the school told us about them,” he said. “It’s been great to find out what it’s like to learn here.”

You-niversity day, like all the Realise events, ends with a discussion session on higher education. “The final session of the day is central to our goal of raising aspirations,” says Khatija. “Everyone comes with lots of questions about how much it will cost to attend university. It’s really important that they go home knowing there is lots of financial support available and that Cambridge can be a very cheap place to live compared to running your own flat.”


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