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Esther’s Dream bridges the gap to college

Posted By August 18, 2017 | 5:09 pm | Featured Article #3
Caitlin Reidy  | CFP 
Faculty, alumni, and incoming freshmen gather for Mass with the Sisters of St. Anne during Esther’s Dream.
Caitlin Reidy | CFP Faculty, alumni, and incoming freshmen gather for Mass with the Sisters of St. Anne during Esther’s Dream.

By Caitlin Reidy | CFP Correspondent

PAXTON – Anna Maria College ingrains young scholars with a sense of faith, community, and tradition during Esther’s Dream, a program meant to give incoming students an early taste of college life.
The five-day program, which was offered twice in July, is named after Esther Blondin (Mother Marie Anne), the foundress of the Sisters of St. Anne, the order that founded Anna Maria College.
Esther’s Dream acts as a “bridge program between high school and college” according to Andrew Klein, vice president for student affairs.
“Students need to understand the different expectations, especially in terms of college-level writing, and learn new time-management skills because there is so much more freedom and responsibility in college,” Mr. Klein said.
Esther’s Dream, which ran from July 9-13, and July 16-20 this year, requires students to take seminars in mathematics and writing as well as enrichment programs to assist them with time and stress management.
Christine Holmes, vice president for academic affairs, said, “The week-long Esther’s Dream Summer Bridge Program for incoming freshmen focuses on academic rigor to prepare them for college, and 90 percent of students who participate achieve freshmen-year grades that exceed their grades in high school.”
The program also helps to develop a sense of faith and tradition in students by embracing the institution’s mission to “educate students to become individuals who will transform their world as ethical leaders and community-oriented professionals.”
While at orientation, students are involved in community service projects, such as packing meals that Catholic Relief Services will send to Africa and working at the Community Harvest Farm to feed the hungry in Worcester County.
One of the most enlightening activities that takes place during Esther’s Dream occurs on the last day. Students, faculty, Board of Trustee members, alumni, and the Sisters of St. Anne gather in the Madore Chapel on campus to celebrate St. Anne.
Jodi Briggs Picket, director of annual giving and alumni engagement, stated that this Mass helps students “prepare to be successful” by celebrating with former students who are now in service-oriented careers.
Father Manuel Clavijo, chaplain and director of campus ministry, said that Esther’s Dream is meant to inspire students to “serve through ethical actions.” The college prides itself on service-oriented careers, such teaching, nursing, and law enforcement, and Esther’s Dream serves as a way for students to see what the college offers and what they can become.
The Sisters of St. Anne provided the initial funding for Esther’s Dream and continue to financially and spiritually support the program, according to information provided by the college. Because of their support there is no charge to participate. The bridge program for incoming students  began seven years ago, with 12 participants. This year the  program had 130 participants over the two sessions, including students who are planning to commute and those who will reside on campus. The incoming freshman class has about 350 students, according to Mr. Klein.
Dennis Vanasse, director of the Student Success Center, said, “The best part about Esther’s Dream is watching students make connections to make them feel like they belong with peers, faculty, and alumni.”
After the Mass on July 20, celebrated by Father  Clavijo, students, faculty, alumni, and the Sisters gathered in Anna Maria’s Hub for hotdogs and hamburgers.
Samantha Gobin, orientation leader, class of 2018, said, “Nothing is better than getting to know the future of tomorrow, especially at a Catholic school that embraces people of all faiths and teaches students to ‘love thy neighbor.’”
Sister Norma Ethier, a Sister of St. Anne, class of 1965, said that she chose to attend Anna Maria, instead of accepting a full scholarship elsewhere, because of the sense of “devotion” that she felt coming from the school. That is something that she wants incoming students to experience as well. Many of the Sisters who were present for the Mass expressed similar thoughts.
According to the college, participants have stated that they felt more prepared for writing classes and were excited to come back in the fall to see their new friends.
Vanessa Kutcher, class of 2021, said that she felt more comfortable going to college and that she was glad she attended Esther’s Dream.
Ms. Gobin said that Esther’s dream teaches students that the college is accepting of all faiths, it also “embodies the ideal of the Sisters of St. Anne,” which helps instill the tradition of Anna Maria in its new and returning students.