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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.

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.

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation Pledges $625,000

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has pledged $625,000 over the next three years to support Austin Partners in Education’s College Readiness, Classroom Coaching, and Step-Up programs.

We are profoundly grateful for the foundation’s support. In the first year, funding will aid the College Readiness program expansion to Anderson, Eastside Memorial, and Reagan high schools, College Readiness curriculum development, and the Middle School Reading Classroom Coaching expansion to Martin and Covington middle schools.

What it Means to be College Ready

In the fall of 2003, the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) went into effect.  This state mandate requires that Texas public institutions of higher education “assess the academic skills of each entering undergraduate student to determine the student’s readiness to enroll in freshman-level academics.”  Students must meet college readiness standards in reading, writing, and math. Students who are not deemed college ready are required to take developmental courses.

Our College Readiness program aims to increase the number of students in AISD who graduate college ready as defined by the TSI. A student can be classified as college ready utilizing scores from exit-level TAKS, ACT, SAT, and previously through end-of-course exams that are no longer required because of the passage of House Bill 5. Additionally, all Texas public institutions of higher education utilize a new test called the TSI Assessment to determine college readiness.

We target students who are eligible to graduate but not yet considered college ready. Because they are considered ready to graduate, these students do not generally receive intervention from their high schools, whose energy is focused on ensuring all students are ready to graduate.

Without APIE’s intervention, these students would be placed into developmental courses upon entering college. While these cost the same as any other college class, these classes are non-credit bearing. Developmental courses are time consuming, expensive, and a leading reason that students – particularly those who are economically disadvantaged – decide not to enroll in college or withdraw without receiving a degree.

To help students achieve college readiness and remove this barrier, APIE provides targeted academic support on a Case Management basis to these Tier 2 students. College Readiness Advocates meet for 30-60 minutes each week one-on-one with each student to advise, tutor, and encourage them.

College Readiness

College Readiness students with their EZCORP scholarship certificates

Since APIE introduced its Case Management model, student success rates have grown exponentially. In the first year, 14.4% of the students enrolled in APIE’s College Readiness program passed the state-mandated standards for college readiness; this past year, 47% of the 413 students fully closed their achievement gaps and an additional 13% reduced their need for developmental coursework in college.

During the 2013-14 school year, APIE is implementing its College Readiness program at 10 of AISD’s 12 high schools and has set a goal of case managing about 400 students and getting 300 fully college ready.

The program is underway, and we’re looking forward to a challenging, successful year!


Our days almost always feel jam packed. Volunteering takes up precious time. Between going to work or school, fulfilling family obligations, fitting in crucial time to socialize and maintain relationships, getting in some “you” time, and of course snagging the ever-elusive eight hours of sleep, it’s easy to understand why finding time to volunteer seems difficult if not impossible.

There are 168 hours in a week. Our volunteer opportunities require 45 minutes, plus travel time, each week. That’s roughly 0.59% of the 168 hours. The reality is that, of course, it IS difficult to find the time. But that small percentage of your week has the potential to boost your mood and sense of fulfillment, help you make professional and personal connections, and improve your overall health.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers experience pride and satisfaction from their experiences. And regarding volunteering for APIE in particular, you are strengthening communities, improving the lives of AISD students, making connections, and growing personally.

Personal Connections
Through volunteering, people can expand their personal and professional networks from connections forged with fellow volunteers, teachers, and volunteer coordinators. In addition, volunteers can gain or improve valuable skills, including leadership and knowledge related to a particular field. According to another study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “…volunteering is linked with a 27 percent increase in odds of employment, and provides ‘social capital and human capital,’ which are directly related with better job prospects.”

Overall Health
UnitedHealthcare, a UnitedHealth Group company, and VolunteerMatch surveyed 4,500 adults in 2010 and found the following:
• 68% of volunteers agree that “volunteering has made me feel physically healthier”
• 89% of volunteers agree that “volunteering has improved my sense of well-being”
• 73% of volunteers agree that “volunteering lowers my stress levels”

Did you know the Independent Sector places a value on the volunteer hour in Texas at $22.57? Based on that value, APIE volunteers (classroom coaches and mentors combined) in the 2012-13 school year provided more than $975,000 worth of academic and personal support to students in AISD. And we’re betting they feel pretty great about that.

Thanks to all those who volunteer or donate! Our programs would not be successful without your efforts.


by Kelsi Urrutia, College Readiness AdvocateCollege Readiness

Walking into Akins High School at the beginning of September, I was almost overwhelmed with anxiety and excitement. As part of a team of APIE College Readiness Advocates, our goal was to end the year with every student meeting the Texas Success Initiative College Readiness Standards, meaning that they would qualify to enroll in college-level classes after high school. Even with nearly a month of training, facing the list of over 100 seniors needing intervention was still intimidating. The objective that first week: recruit students for the program. Although challenged by everything from learning the layout of the school to finding the best procedure for bringing a student into a one-on-one meeting, I left the first week feeling assured. It seemed that most of the entering seniors were committed to becoming college ready.

The first few weeks of actual tutoring played out differently, however. I was concerned by how much some of the students struggled to read a short passage or do a basic pre-algebra problem. While some of this was due to learning loss over the summer, it was also clear that these students faced academic gaps in their learning. One student in particular really stood out to me. Helen was highly engaged and motivated to become college ready but also struggled with math, unable to add or multiply without a calculator. Still, she stayed positive and focused on our goal. I was concerned about getting Helen college ready but determined not to let her down. We’d been warned many times during training that this job would be challenging, and I now realized how true this was.

By February, there had been many ups and downs. Elective teachers were becoming increasingly impatient with having students pulled for tutoring, while severe senioritis was kicking in. A round of college readiness testing for Akins APIE students was administered. Though many of my students had already succeeded or were well on their way to becoming college ready, some, including Helen, seemed further behind than they should have been, in spite of almost six months of tutoring. Still, other non-APIE students were asking to join the College Readiness program; I realized we were making a real impact on our students.

The next few months before the final COMPASS test was administered felt like a balancing act of trying to meet with each remaining student for as long as possible while minimizing class absence. I expected the spring semester to be the toughest part of the year, yet it was during this time that the most challenging students started making real progress. The material suddenly started to click and my students were beginning to truly value the tutoring they were receiving. Helen increased her commitment and was working on math three times more often than initially agreed upon. The things she struggled with at the beginning of the year were no longer an issue for her. By the time the final COMPASS test day came, Helen had gone from being the math student for whom I was the most concerned to the one who achieved the most success.

Despite the challenges faced throughout the year, what I found most difficult was the realization that I will not continue working with these students as they begin college. It is comforting and rewarding to have witnessed the progress made by each student and to end the year knowing that all of the students will begin college better equipped with the skills that they need to succeed.

** This essay was published in APIE’s summer 2013 newsletter. Click here to subscribe to future newsletters.

We are hiring College Readiness Advocates for the 2013-14 school year. Visit out employment page for details!

Giving Thanks

Our team held a Thanksgiving celebration this week. It was the usual feast of the office potluck, with requisite over-eating.  One thing I am thankful for is to work in a group with so many “foodies.” The spread was both healthy and delectable.

We noted the myriad transitions that APIE has weathered this year and honored the many reasons we are thankful. We said farewell to seven team members in 2011, including Kathrin Brewer, APIE’s founding Executive Director. We are thankful to Kathrin for her vision of a mobilized community for education and her gifts as a connector. These have been vital to the success that APIE enjoys today. We welcomed nine new team members, including myself and are grateful for the expanded skills and capacity that each person brings to the APIE mission. This year we expanded our programs to new schools and grades, we stepped up our game on college readiness and we leveraged technology solutions to gain efficiencies across all of our offerings. We extended the conversation with our stakeholders through social media outlets. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as this blog.

We are profoundly grateful to our donors, for without them this work would not be possible. We are thankful for the 859 volunteers who give over 1000 hours a week in classroom coaching. We honor, as well the 700 mentors and 1500+ other volunteers who are enriching the educational experience for Austin ISD students. The heart and spirit of these volunteers infuse the APIE universe each day. They inspire us and sustain us.

2011 has been a transformational year for APIE. Yet, many things remain constant: the support of our managing partners, The Austin Independent School District and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; the passion of our staff and volunteers for the work we do in high need schools; the collaboration with more than 70 teachers whose classrooms we support; the sense of triumph every time a student experiences an academic achievement. For these things we are thankful.

In gratitude,

Pat Abrams

Executive Director