About two dozen teenagers were tossing a miniature basketball to each other when the action ground to a halt. A second ball had been thrown into the mix and nobody knew what to do.
“I was focusing on the other ball, and I realized I didn’t have to focus on that ball," one student said as others laughed.
"Great!" said the activity's facilitator, Megan Nestor. "My metaphor is working so well."
While summer vacation is a time of rest or recreation for some high school graduates, this group was spending a week at a new boot camp run by the Opportunity Network. The students are focused less on academics than on life strategies, like how to manage busy schedules, financial aid and homesickness, and how to juggle it all. Hence the tossing of balls in the air.
"Freshman year is a very hard transition," said the group's founder, Jessica Pliska, adding that many of her students were the first in their families to go to college.
Opportunity Network selects low-income, high-achieving students before their sophomore year of high school and mentors them through college. It is one of several programs that work with New York City high school students to get them ready for college and careers, including Scholarship Plus and Summer Search, as well as partnerships with community groups like the College Access and Success Initiative.
The boot camp was intended to give the students tools to find answers to their questions or concerns. It also dedicated a full day to discussing diversity by confronting stereotypes.
Eric Santiago, 21, who graduated from Columbia University this year, went through the Opportunity Network and now works for the organization. He graduated from the Bronx Academy of Letters and recalled being "in shock" when he first got to college and read "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
"I’m like, this is English and what I speak, but this is not English and what I know," he said.
He was also thrown into a a new world with "people around me wearing their Prada bags," he said, adding: "They were affluent. They were very privileged. They went to private schools and stuff like that."
Daniel Card, 18, of the Bronx graduated from Manhattan Village Academy and is heading to Lawrence University in Wisconsin this fall. He acknowledged that he would be among very few nonwhite students. "I'm trying to get used to it," he said.
Nataliah Rodriguez, 18, who grew up in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan and graduated from the High School for Environmental Studies, expressed similar concerns about going to Middlebury College in Vermont. But like most students, she said her top concern is managing her time well. "Teachers aren't going to tell you to do your homework," she said.
"Because all I hear is college is one of the hardest experiences you'll ever have in your life," he said, adding that he wanted to play baseball, too. "People sometimes get sick over there, get depressed with so much work. And I just have to focus on time management."
Other students feel pressure in different ways. Mahajabin Chowdhury, 19, had to convince her traditional Muslim family to let her go away to Connecticut College after graduating from International High School at Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She said her siblings and cousins considered her a role model.
"I have high expectations for myself," she said.
AUDIO: Sasha Rupchandeo, 18, Adrian Pichardo, 18, and Giselle Sanchez, 18 talk about their concerns in going away to college at Denison University, Muhlenberg College and Vassar College.