Developed by Bennington faculty members Susan Sgorbati and Danny Michaelson, the Quantum Leap program helps at-risk elementary, middle, and high school students in the community return to school. Instead of being processed through the court system, these students work one on one with Bennington students and faculty to develop individualized educational plans that are modeled after the ones that Bennington students use to structure their studies at the College.
The project’s goal is to work with those children who seem least likely to succeed—who often come from chaotic home lives, extreme poverty, and traumatic histories—and give them the chance to make a “quantum leap.” The program aims not merely to get these students back in school so they can make it through, but to help them discover a love for learning that will allow them to prevail.
Since its founding in 1999, Quantum Leap has blossomed into a far-reaching initiative with several specialized projects, including:
- Quantum Leap after-school mentoring program: This program is integrated into several local schools. Quantum Leap is also currently working with the Department of Children and Families to launch a pilot program that will bring similar mentoring to students in foster care and on probation.
- Project Leap: An after-school, experientially based program for students at the local Mount Anthony Union High School. Students who graduated from or are a part of this program have recently expressed interest in re-creating it with elementary and middle school students as a way of sharing their own positive experiences with younger students.
- Quantum Leap in-school tutoring/mentoring program: This program is specifically designed to help students who are at high risk of failing one or more classes in a given semester.
- The Project Program: Local individuals and businesses team up with the Quantum Leap program in various projects that focus on a craft or trade to foster connections between students and members of the community. In one such project, the executive chef of Pangaea Restaurant in North Bennington taught students how to cook a gourmet meal, which they then prepared and served for their family and friends. In other projects, students and community members designed and planted a garden in the high school’s public courtyard; created a Girls’ Group at the high school, focusing on healthy relationships; collaborated with the Center for Restorative Justice on a theater production based on Twelve Angry Men, with two real judges playing the role of the judge; worked with parents and the Project Against Violent Encounters to create a parents’ workshop titled “Healthy Mind, Body and Family” and held annual picnics at Lake Shaftsbury State Park with families, friends, mentors, teachers, and students associated with the program. upcoming projects include the Public Art Project and the Quilting Project.
- Projects with international students: International students attending Bennington College have developed a number of projects through Quantum Leap, including establishing a letter exchange between local high school students and students from Karachi, Pakistan; cooking meals from other countries at STEP/PLUS; developing a website to initiate conversations and exchanges between students at the middle school and students in Kenya, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Dominican Republic.