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Friday, November 16, 2018

Academics & Research

Tutoring program catapults community students to success


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Mechical engineering sophomore Kaitlin Miller tutors at the KIPP: Intrepid where seventh graders’ STAAR Writing scores have increased twofold in one year. | Courtesy of Bonner Leaders

With the help of Bonner Leaders, seventh graders at KIPP: Intrepid have not only improved — they have surpassed the state average in the STAAR writing test.

The Bonner Leaders Program, housed in the Honors College, coordinates a variety of programs to help serve the Houston community. One of the program’s recent endeavors is the iWISE project, which stands for Writing to Inspire Successful Education.

In its first year, the iWISE program drastically improved the STAAR writing scores of seventh graders at KIPP: Intrepid.

“How much money your parents make is directly tied to how well you perform in school,” said mechanical engineering sophomore Serrae Reed, leader of the iWISE program.

Moving up

In 2015, the passing rate for the school was 40 percent and the commended rate was 3 percent.

A year after the program’s inception, the passing rate was raised to 56 percent and the commended rate was raised to 16 percent, surpassing the state average of 13 percent. The iWISE program’s mission is to close the education achievement gap, which occurs between students of differing socioeconomic status, gender and race/ethnicity.

Reed said 70 percent of Texas students pass the STAAR Writing Test, but that percentage drops according to economic status.

“As far as commended/advanced scores go, 13 percent of all Texas students reach commended,” Reed said. “If you are not economically disadvantaged, that jumps to 22 percent, but if you are economically disadvantaged it drops to 6 percent.”

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Sabrina Martinez/The Cougar

The majority of the program’s 108 seventh graders are on free or reduced lunch, which meets the economically disadvantaged mark, Reed said.

For many of the students, 99 percent of whom are Hispanic, English is their second language. This is why iWise targets their school.

Students’ tutoring was done mostly by digital means, but was also supplemented with in-person school visits later in the year. Every week, the students would work on a draft of an essay that was then uploaded and given to the Bonner Mentors.

They would edit, revise the essays and then create a video explaining how the students can better their essays. Michelle Tran, a former iWISE tutor, said she noticed an improvement in her writing through these methods.

“I noticed that, as the year went on, they started exploring writing as a craft, seeing what they can do with it,” Tran said. “I just thought that was amazing. Because yes, we’re here to improve their grades, but I think another important aspect of iWISE is that we want to inspire these kids to look to writing as a form of expression.”

Ready for the future

Andrew Hamilton, the former director of the Bonner Leaders program, said all Bonner Leaders are required to take a civic engagement course.

He said that through the course the students learn about the causes of certain societal problems. Once they are equipped with this knowledge, they can work toward implementing solutions.

“I always tell them that it’s their job to make a contribution to the city of Houston before they graduate,” Hamilton said. “The civic engagement course winds them up and lets them go because they don’t know that there are these systemic challenges with access to healthcare, quality food and even secondary education. Then once they learn this is the challenge, they’re all about fixing it.”

Because of the program’s success in its first year, it will expand to other schools and data will be continually collected to determine the effectiveness of the program’s methods.

With this expansion, however, comes the need for more service leaders, indicating that Bonner-like programs may require the assistance of other colleges at UH.

“What’s really great about the University of Houston is that there are a lot of students that want to contribute in that way,” Hamilton said. “The fact that we are as diverse as we are and that we’re situated where we are — I think it really creates the opportunity for us to become the leading service engagement university in the country.”

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