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Stewart Middle School students

Partners in Success

UT Tyler Joins Districts in Life-Changing After-School Effort

"This is a really good partnership between the school districts and UT Tyler," said Dr. Michael Odell, Ingenuity Center executive director. "As a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) center, one of seven in the state, our purpose is to improve STEM education."

Sammy* walked through the halls with his head down, shuffling. He never said much. (*Student's name changed to protect his identity.)

The Tyler middle school student didn't have a lot to be excited about at school – he had made failing grades since second grade. But all that changed when Sammy began attending the University Academy after school on his campus.

"Today, he walks with his head up, excited, purposeful," said Brian Weaver, who coordinates University Academies as project manager at The University of Texas at Tyler Ingenuity Center. "He could not wait to show off his last report card – he made A's, B's and C's. He was even part of a team that planned a special school event ... that he emceed. That is what the after-school program is all about."

This kind of life-changing transformation in students is exactly why the University Academies were created.

The UT Tyler Ingenuity Center was awarded an $8.75 million grant over five years – the largest in the university's history – to help local school districts improve student performance and college and career readiness.

Stewart Middle School students

The grant provides funds to develop after-school programs with UT Tyler faculty and students, as well as teachers from the Tyler and Fruitvale independent school districts.

"This is a really good partnership between the school districts and UT Tyler," said Dr. Michael Odell, Ingenuity Center executive director. "As a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) center, one of seven in the state, our purpose is to improve STEM education."

The University Academies were launched last fall at TISD's Boulter Engineering Prep Middle School, Dogan Middle School and Stewart Middle School and in Fruitvale ISD. The free programs provide students with academic assistance, enrichment opportunities and a snack.

"We began working in these schools because they serve a large number of at-risk students and we felt like we could help,'' said Eli Crow, TISD director of university initiatives. "By setting up non-threatening activities so they can experience science, technology and math, they realize they can do it. That translates back to success in the classroom."

As many as 1,200 students participate at one level or another in the program, which also provides transportation home. "At the three middle schools, the entire population participates for the first hour at least, and many of them stay for the second and third hour," Weaver said.

Dr. Odell noted, "The groups of students who are underprepared in the STEM fields are the same groups that are more likely to attend an after-school program. So, it opens up many new possibilities for some really deserving kids."

The University Academies are transformational for the schools, said UT Tyler President Rodney H. Mabry. "Their teachers and UT Tyler students work together to improve student academic outcomes in science and math areas, as well as reading."

The program is not only improving academics, but also impacting life skills. "We are teaching 21st century skills, collaborative skills, leadership skills,'' said Weaver. "For those who need intervention, we help them. Then, if their work is done they get to participate in activities like fencing, fishing, robotics, Frisbee golf, cooking, and more."

student with teacher

Positive Results

The Monday through Thursday program lasts from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., with the first hour focused on academic intervention and support. UT Tyler students serve as mentors and tutors, helping students with homework and academics. The remainder of the time is spent in activities for enrichment, as well as college and career readiness.

Students choose from activities such as robotics, technology, theater, art, cooking, archery – and even bicycle repair. "Research shows that after-school programs that just focus on academics or just enrichment don't do as well as a combination of the two," Crow said.

In just two semesters, program coordinators have seen tremendous results in the students and on campuses.

On the Boulter campus, where as many as 130 kids participate in the program, site coordinator Jason DuBose said:

"I can see a change in quite a few students. I get to see the good and bad, the fun and the sad, and watch as they grow as students and people. One girl started out loud and unruly. She was a leader. We started doing some positive behavioral intervention strategies and after about a month or so, she started making changes. This is a child who has become a positive person, a positive force in the program and at school. Others see her and follow suit."

Boulter is already seeing an impact on campus, DuBose said. "Behavioral referrals and fights are down. As the students go on to high school, they will be more successful because they are gaining social and academic skills."

Fruitvale ISD also is experiencing great results.

"I have seen myriad improvements, achievements and even transformations in the short time I've been the Fruitvale administrator for the program,'' said University Academy site coordinator Angela Lassiter. "These kids are incredible individuals and to help them find success with better grades and watch them experience new adventures has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my educational career."

Ultimately, the program's effectiveness is shown in the lives of the students, Dubose said. "They will be more prepared to enter the workforce or college. The goal is to turn out people who will be productive community members several years down the road."

The Students Say It Best

The program is also getting good reviews from the students themselves.

"The after-school program changed my life by helping me reach my goal to make the A and B honor roll,'' said Deshawn, a Boulter student. "It also gave me opportunities to work on my behavior and my skills to succeed. Plus it's fun to go to."

Jerruni, who attends Stewart, said her favorite part of the program is learning things she can use in the real world. "In school I know all the subjects are important, but then I get to the after-school program and I can learn how to cook. It is awesome to learn things that can keep me healthy and it's also just really fun."

Boulter student Ailene said, "The teachers are really nice and I like to hug them because they help me with my schoolwork. School is easier now."

UT Tyler's Ingenuity Center

The University Academy project is part of an ongoing partnership between area school districts and The University of Texas at Tyler Ingenuity Center.

The Ingenuity Center assists partner districts with professional development for teachers, personnel support and technical assistance with instructional programming and grant writing. Formed in 2006, the center is a part of the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative (T-STEM).

The center oversees more than 30 different projects for students and teachers in the region to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics achievement among Texas students.

The many varied projects include:

  • The new UT Tyler Innovation Academy charter school for grades 3-6, set to open in the fall.
  • Serving as host to the annual "Expanding Your Horizons'' Science and Math Technology Program for middle school girls.
  • A new partnership with the Discovery Science Place museum.
  • Sponsoring local high school students to compete in the 2011 Russian International Space Olympics in Moscow.

The Ingenuity Center not only impacts students directly, but also helps teachers in STEM preparation through research, professional development, curriculum development and technical assistance.

Fruitvale student Kayle gave the program an A-plus: "It is magnificent. No joke! It most definitely has helped me get better grades and have better behavior in all my classes."

Other Fruitvale students remarked:

  • "I really enjoy the University Academy here. I love that every day we learn something new ... and thinking outside of the box comes more easily now.'' – MaKayla
  • "Our program has taught me to be more responsible and learn to work with others as well as being able to count on myself when I need to.'' – Bryli
  • "I know now that school doesn't have to be boring.'' – Michelle

Everyone Wins

Tyler and Fruitvale ISD students are not the only ones who benefit from the University Academies. More than 20 UT Tyler students from across all disciplines work in the after-school program. "With the grant, UT Tyler adds six full-time positions to the local economy, as well as around 20 half-time positions for students," President Mabry said.

The job allows UT Tyler students to work in their chosen fields while impacting lives.

Chelsea Lammes, a UT Tyler graduate student in the field of counseling, teaches anger management and career exploration at Boulter. "I teach them skills to work through problems themselves," she said. "How can you not be changed working with these kids? Each day when you leave, you see a change in them."

UT Tyler graduate student Alex Stansbury wants to work in the field of special education. "I got involved to make an impact in some way . . . to be an advocate for these kids," said Stansbury, who works at Dogan after school.

The student added, "I teach yoga and none of them knew what it was at first. Now they really enjoy it. I think the positive interaction with adults and attention is reinforcement for them."

Vickie Lacy is a third-year graduate student who works at Stewart. As a school counseling major, Lacy helps counsel students and teach fine arts. "The after-school program is so important," she said. "They need mentors. As college students, when we pay attention to them, it gives them a real look at moving beyond where they are."

President Mabry said, "We plan to expand this program to be as beneficial as possible to as many possible. Efforts are already under way to include elements of the project in our education, psychology and counseling classes."

The free program also provides adult education classes for family members of participating students. In addition, the district provides snacks and transportation to students who participate in the full program.