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Helping Aspiring College Graduates Succeed

By Ben Hirsch, College Readiness Advocate

As October begins and students are settling back into school, Austin Partners in Education’s college readiness advocates have already begun helping high school seniors get ready for a successful academic career in college.

Senior year is an incredibly tumultuous time: there are the foreseeable hurdles of college applications, financial aid forms, and impending adult responsibilities; the excitement about the upcoming life change or fear inspired by leaving home; and the Hollywood-sanctioned coming of age moments: homecoming, prom, and finally graduation. On some level, though, last on their mind is the question “am I academically prepared for college?” That is where APIE comes in.

This is the beginning of my third school year helping seniors solidify the skills they need to be a high achieving college student. Successful college students can write clearly and persuasively, comprehend the main ideas, philosophical underpinnings and supporting details in the texts they read, and have the math skills necessary to pursue careers they find compelling.

As a College Readiness Advocate, I have the exciting job of helping students identify areas in which they are struggling and give them extra one-on-one or small-group instruction to improve in those areas. At Akins High school I worked with Alyssa, who was struggling to demonstrate college-level ability in math. In her own words math had always been “the worst” for Alyssa.

Working with Alyssa made it apparent that her struggles were the result of some real deficiencies in mathematical knowledge. She was confounded by fractions, had difficulties working with negative numbers, and found graphs incredibly confusing. While a class full of peers and friends is not the ideal environment to reveal deep-seeded confusion, a small group can be more supportive. When one student expresses confusion, others often chime in, “yeah, I never got that either.”

When you don’t have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts, most high school math feels like a series of random steps that, if you don’t do perfectly, will lead you to the wrong answer. This obviously causes stress. But after we discovered the foundation concepts that Alyssa was missing, she was able to make great strides. By solidifying her ability to do things like reduce fractions and grapple with negative numbers, we enabled her to make sense of complex algebra like rational equations (which are essentially just extremely complex fractions) and quadratic functions (which cannot possibly be solved consistently if you do not understand the real significance of a numbers sign).

At the end of the year, Alyssa passed the mast section of the Texas Success Initiative Assessment and was able to avoid developmental courses at the University of Texas San Antonio. She was especially happy because these courses would have been in math.  Working with students like Alyssa is why I am excited to work with more aspiring college graduates. Many students have the desire and capacity to be successful and happy in college, but they need a little academic support before they head off on the next incredible step in their life of learning.

Looking for Another Way to Help APIE Support Austin ISD Students?

AmazonSmile for APIEAmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support APIE every time you shop with Amazon, at no cost to you.

Simply go to smile.amazon.com and sign in with your existing Amazon account information. From there, you can select APIE as the charitable organization to receive donations, and AmazonSmile will remember your selection each time you sign in!

The AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the purchase price to APIE!

APIE Debuts College Readiness Summer Program

By: Amanda Mills, College Readiness Advocate

When you hear the words “college readiness,” your mind most likely jumps to GPAs, SAT scores, and AP classes. Yet post-secondary education demands a variety of attributes outside of academic strength from its students.

Many students who might otherwise be successful in college lack the self-awareness, discipline, or other tools to make the most of their education. That is why, in June 2014, APIE implemented its first ever Summer College Readiness Program, which targets freshmen and sophomores and integrates academic instruction with personal exploration and development. At John H. Reagan Early College High School, seven college readiness advocates and 17 underclassmen spent three weeks together, thinking about and preparing for the rest of high school, the path to college, and the Texas Success Initiative (or TSI) exam.

The class, which took place Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., mixed APIE’s reading and writing curriculum with various team-building and enrichment activities. Students took an interest inventory, discovered their personal learning styles, and learned about the many resources available to them in their school and their community. As they became more knowledgeable about what they personally need to succeed and where they can turn for support, the students also became more confident in their abilities. A variety of exercises and fluid movement between individual activities and small- and large-group activities kept students engaged throughout class.

Of course, preparation for the TSI exam remains the core of the Summer College Readiness Program. Of the 14 students who were able to test on the last day of the program, six passed both sections and eight passed one section of the English Language Arts exam. The six who passed both portions will be able to take dual credit courses and earn college credit starting this fall, while in high school. In addition, more program alumni will take the TSI this fall when they return to class.

After taking the test on the last day of the summer session, the students visited The University of Texas campus. While it might have been difficult for the students to remember why they were at school when they could be at home watching a World Cup match, the field trip allowed the students to see why they had been working so hard.

Many students will begin college this fall without the tools and sources of support they need. Fortunately, Reagan High School students receive multiple opportunities to learn about and prepare for higher education. Reagan’s College and Career Center, Raider Enrichment Center, and community partnerships with organizations like APIE and Advise Texas provide Reagan students with opportunities to explore their futures. The new APIE Summer College Readiness Program is one such opportunity, encouraging students to take ownership of their futures as they prepare for college and the world beyond.

How to Relate and Talk to Your Students

Your 6th grade Reading Classroom Coaching coordinators, Chris and Hannah, put together a great handout for the April volunteer and mentor coffee talk. Check it out below!


Meet them at their level – put yourself in their shoes

  • Get to know their interests and hobbies.  Some students have a different background than yours; respecting it is key. Crossing cultural barriers takes effort, but if you want to bridge distances it is important to remain patient and keep an open mind.

Be objective

  • Don’t take student behavior personally
  • Be aware of your reaction/response to the students

Don’t be afraid to laugh and admit mistakes—have a sense of humor!

  • Model that it’s ok to make mistakes
  • Utilize your sense of humor

Respect/Trust

  • Remember that to get respect, you have to give it
  • Building trust takes time and patience

Listen

  • Try to listen more than you talk
  • Accept that a student’s feelings are valid

Be consistent

  • It is much harder to relate to your students if you miss multiple classes
  • Be consistent week to week with group guidelines for behavior
  • Being inconsistent will cause you to lose students’ respect and attention

We hope you’ll join APIE staff, your teachers, and fellow volunteers and mentors for the end-of-year happy hour TODAY at Contigo Austin!


 

Volunteer Spotlight: Andrea Martin

Andrea Martin started volunteering with APIE in the fall of 2013. As a new addition to APIE, she has already had a huge impact on her students. Andrea enjoys dedicating her time as a classroom coach helping improve the reading skills of middle school students in Austin.

APIE: What sparked your interest in volunteering with APIE?

AM: I used to teach middle school reading and missed working with middle school kids and heard about APIE through the Teach For America Alumni network here in Austin. APIE gives me the opportunity to support the teachers and administrators who are working hard every day to create an environment for excellent education in AISD.

APIE: What is something unique about APIE that stands it apart from other organizations?

AM: I feel like the volunteers are well-trained for what we are doing and we receive a lot of support. It’s also great consistency that for the most part we spend an hour every school week with the same kids. With this, we really get to see our kids through the course of the year.

APIE: You are currently working with 6th graders. What do you like about that age group?

AM: Middle school is a really tough time for everyone and if I, as a volunteer, can make the day a little easier, I want to be able to do that for my students.

APIE: What do you do for a living?

AM: I currently work in consulting for non-profits. Every day I am required to spend at least some time proofreading so I must be a careful and thorough reader for my work. For this reason, I am able to give my students clear examples of the importance of slowing down and paying close attention to what they are reading.

APIE: You have a Bachelors degree in English and Government and a Masters in Secondary Education.

AM: I point to my English degree with my students to tell them how important reading is to me. I hope they’ll learn to enjoy it and find it important in their own lives as well.

APIE: This is your first year as a volunteer. What has been the best part of the experience so far?

AM: As a citizen of Austin, I enjoy being able to learn and be a part of our city schools in at least this small way. It’s exciting to see the students learn something new or figure something out for themselves. We also have fun discussions during and after reading and it’s great to see them engage in our stories!

APIE: You seem to be making a lot of progress in the short amount of time you have volunteered.

AM: For me it’s valuable to be back in a classroom and having even a small opportunity to help my students grow as readers. I’ve greatly enjoyed working with my students. I love learning about them and their interests and also watching them have small successes in the classroom.

APIE: Have you faced any challenges as a volunteer?

AM: My biggest challenge has been with their attendance. It’s hard to see my students miss class, especially when I know they’re both already below grade-level readers.

APIE: What are some ways you feel volunteers can help with student attendance?

AM: Get to know your students and take an interest in their lives. Treat them like they’re adults and find ways to relate what they’re reading and learning about to their own lives.

APIE: APIE focuses on having small-group interactions between the volunteers and the students. Do you believe the students benefit from a personal learning environment?

AM: I’m so glad that I can give my students a little one-on-one time for reading practice. I know it’s valuable for them to be able to read aloud in such a low-pressure environment. As a volunteer, it is also great to be able to support the excellent work that tireless teachers like Mrs. Spear are doing every day with our students.

APIE: If you could tell your students one thing, what would it be?

AM: I’d just encourage them to find books and reading materials that interest them and read to them every day. That’s the only way I know they will become more successful readers and learners.

APIE: What do you hope APIE can achieve in the future?

AM: I hope APIE can continue to give more students the opportunities for classroom coaching sessions. I’m so glad programs like APIE exist to bring community members into our city’s schools and hope that even more members of the community will get involved with the program so they can have a better idea of the great work that is going on in our classrooms.

Volunteer Spotlight: Nick Bradley

Nick Bradley is an Aerospace Engineering Doctoral student at UT Austin. During his three years volunteering with APIE, he has been an 8th grade Math Coach for nine students and is currently a Classroom Coach at Webb Middle School.Nick Bradley

While looking for ways to positively engage with the Austin community, Nick Bradley found an Austin Partners In Education posting for math coaches in the service announcements at his church. “Math coaching sounded like just the right fit,” Bradley says.

In the final year of his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering, Bradley is a dedicated individual who believes that good comprehension and problem-solving skills are the keys to pursuing higher education. For this reason, Bradley has been an APIE volunteer for three years and has worked with nine students all over Austin, encouraging them to work hard every day.

Bradley believes that to be a classroom coach, one must be dedicated to seeing real change and understanding occur in students’ academic and personal lives, no matter how long it may take. “Individual rapport with each student is vital to the methodology of APIE coaching, and coaches must be willing to get to know the students on a personal level,” Bradley says.

But there are a lot of challenges that classroom coaches must learn to overcome.

Sometimes students will seem uninterested in and disengaged from the group. One student in particular has proved to be a challenge this year for Bradley. “The frustrating part is that I see that this student understands the concepts,” Bradley says. “It has been a struggle to keep trying to include the student without detracting attention and help from the others.”

For this reason, Bradley is constantly learning how to better accommodate each student’s individual needs as a learner. While the math is an important part of the learning program, Bradley believes that it is also important to engage personally with the students and find out how they are doing and what they are excited about. “The students really want someone to show that they care about them, not just another teacher who comes in and makes them do math problems.”

One thing that has really drawn Bradley to volunteering with APIE has been the positive interaction with the people in the organization. “The coordinators and other volunteers really care about each individual student, and I value organizations that incorporate one-on-one interactions with the beneficiaries,” says Bradley.

Bradley also credits his commitment with APIE to Sandy Bootz, his volunteer coordinator. “Sandy has been an outstanding coordinator for the three years I’ve worked with her,” Bradley says. “She is a gifted teacher and leader and cares individually very well for each volunteer.”

If he could leave his students with one message, Bradley would tell them that their teachers, parents, and volunteers genuinely care about them. “Your success in school and in life is more than just a hobby for all of us,” Bradley says. “You have a value beyond just being a student with a homework grade, and you are not made any less or more of a person by your performance in school.”

Bradley hopes that APIE can continue to have a positive impact all over Austin in the future by enabling students to be confident community leaders. “I think it is a core component of APIE’s methodology to have individual interactions with students that remind them that they are capable, that they have intrinsic value, and that they are cared for as people.”

Starting Off on the Right Foot: Four Steps Towards Building a Positive Mentoring Relationship

Thanks to all who attended the volunteer and mentor happy hour at Tacos and Tequila last Thursday, March 27! Our coordinators had a great time getting to know you and are looking forward to seeing you again next month! If you missed the happy hour, check out the handout below, based on information from “Meaningful Mentoring.

1. Listen attentively

Sit with an open, calm posture. Laugh with your student and show genuine interest in what he/she is saying and doing.
Example Scenario: Your student takes out a book about the Great Barrier Reef and begins talking about it. You listen as your student talks and lean in slightly in your seat.

2. Ask inviting questions

Limit the number of questions you ask your student during your time together
Use “what” or “how” questions. Avoid “why” questions.
Example Scenario: As your student talks about the book, occasionally ask your student “what” he or she likes about the book or “how” she became interested in reading about the Great Barrier Reef.

3. Summarize content and feeling

When your student speaks or does something, occasionally say something that summarizes what he or she said or did
Example Scenario: Show that you were listening to your student by re-stating, in your own words, what you heard him or her say. Include any facts about the Great Barrier Reef that the student seemed most interested in speaking about.

4. Strategic self-disclosure

Tell your student some things about yourself over time. Use your own experiences to further explain something the student is reading or doing to give more context and create better understanding.
Example Scenario: Tell your student about a time when you visited a coral reef. Or tell your student about an interesting book or article that you have been reading and have your student ask you inviting questions this time.