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UofL helps middle schoolers aim for college

June 11th, 2007

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The Century Program scholars tour of Belknap Campus included Ekstrom Library.

After a visit to the University of Louisville, 75 middle school students left determined to go to college themselves — and that’s just the way it was supposed to happen.

The students are in The Century Program (TCP) at Western Middle School. A national initiative directed by the Foundation for Excellent Schools, TCP is part of UofL’s Signature Partnership Initiative, which seeks to raise educational levels and improve quality of life of residents in West Louisville and to further economic development in that part of the city.

The program, started in February, already has made a difference, said Western principal Beth Johnson.

“I think it’s been a huge success so far,” Johnson said, noting that parental involvement in their children’s education has improved, 34 percent of TCP scholars have maintained a grade point average above 3.7 this semester and 11 percent improved in both behavior and academic status.

“The objective of the program is to foster a connection between middle school students and the university,” said Henry Cunningham, who coordinates the program at UofL. “It targets students who have the academic ability to succeed in college but whose chances of attending are slim due to a lack of exposure to college and adequate home support.”

“For a vast majority (of TCP scholars), this was their first time on a university campus and they were not sure what to expect,” Cunningham said.

After they left, “they were so thankful” for the opportunity, Johnson said, and vowed they were going to college.

TCP provides mentors for the scholars, makes college a visible part of their lives and teaches them goal-setting, leadership skills and community responsibility. The program also requires family involvement.

More than 20 students from UofL’s College of Education and Human Development and several recognized student organizations were mentors this semester. They worked with groups of three or four TCP scholars and spent one hour a week with them to help them set goals for themselves — and accomplish them.

“The goals range from improved attendance to better grades to what they want to be when they grow up,” Cunningham said. Mentors also play games with the TCP scholars, help them with homework and just listen to them.

Decorating the classrooms at Western Middle School with a college theme and visits to campus, such as the recent tour, are designed to increase TCP scholars’ exposure to college.

“Future campus visits will probably include the (Rauch) Planetarium, the Speed Art Museum and other areas of interest,” Cunningham said. “We also are thinking about having scholars attend sporting games such as softball, baseball, tennis, women’s basketball and field hockey as part of the university connection.”

TCP scholars also learn how to take responsibility for the community. Western’s students this semester raised $1,113 for Fund for the Arts, Cunningham said. They exceeded their goal and received recognition for having the most improvement in fund raising.

“This is amazing considering that 96 percent of the students at Western Middle School are on free and reduced lunch,” he said.

This summer the coordinating team will evaluate the program and plan for the next academic year, Cunningham said.

“I think you can look for bigger and better things,” Johnson said. “We got our feet wet this year and plan on soaring next year. I couldn’t be prouder of our success.”

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