Imagine Scholar is an experimental education program re-framing and re-designing how education engages with youth in the 21st Century. The secret-sauce behind Imagine Scholar’s success is a uniquely close-knit organizational culture that allows students to explore new ideas, foster creative confidence, and mould their identity in a safe space.
Building organizational culture from the beginning
At the moment new students enter our campus as Grade 9s, they have established friendships, feel secure in their place on our program, and are hungry to dedicate 25 hours per week over and above school to their personal development. They have already completed a year-long application process that has trimmed over a thousand applicants down to just twelve individuals.
Beginning in April of each year, Imagine Scholar accepts written applications from 20 schools in the Nkomazi region of South Africa. From there, applicants move through a rigorous 4-phase application process that selects not necessarily the most polished applicants, but those that meet two unconventional variables:
The first is how badly the student wants the opportunity. After nine years of operation, we have found that a deep underlying desire to join the program is the best indicator of who will thrive as a Scholar. The second variable addresses how does the student makes other people feel. Above all else, Imagine Scholar is an experiment of culture and a petri dish for positive peer pressure. We seek out genuinely kind youths who desperately want to improve – these are the students that will make change in their future.
Phase 1: Prospective Scholars participate in short interviews designed to assess the student’s exceptional desire to be a part of a challenging and rigorous program.
Phase 2: Finalists from each school are invited to attend a one-month educational boot camp, with optional classes, exams, and interviews at Imagine Scholar, led by our program’s facilitators and mature students. Ultimately, 60 prospective Scholars will shrink to 30 in this phase.
Phase 3: Over the course of the following four to six months, the 30 students will wane to 15 as the program’s rigor increases. Applicants explore complex topics and cultivate an understanding of why Imagine Scholar exists. Phase 3 is self-selecting, and only students who truly want to be part of the program will continue through the challenge.
Phase 4: Towards the end of their Grade 8 year, the remaining students are invited for final interviews with older Imagine Scholar students. Our current students are then responsible for selecting our new cohort.
Morality and individualism are the basic currencies of Imagine Scholar’s social capital, fostering a culture that celebrates shared success and encourages each person to find what makes them come alive. As the application process ramps up in terms of personal investment, the mechanism sifts through the talent pool, leaving only the few who truly want to be here. Our final cohort of twelve is selected by current Imagine Scholar students who act as a character filter, ensuring students who belittle others with their intelligence or put others down are removed from the process.
The final stage of the application period allows students who have taken an active role in crafting our organizational culture are made responsible for choosing individuals they believe will continue to mould the program in a positive direction. Placing our students at the forefront of our future gives incoming students a distinct sense of self-worth and an immediate sense of inclusion, priming them to continue the cycle of mutual respect and the courage to be individual. It is this foundation of social and personal commitment that Imagine Scholar is built on.