Third Ward students become Coogs for a day

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Article reposted with permission from the University of Houston College of Education

More than 100 students from Third Ward and the surrounding area had a chance to envision themselves as future Coogs during an activity-packed visit to campus this week.

The University of Houston Advancing Community Engagement and Service Institute organized the campus visits on Tuesday and Wednesday for students from Blackshear, Foster and Hartsfield elementary schools and Yates and Sterling high schools.

“It was great to have the students come to campus to see all the opportunities and to see themselves as college students here. That’s our ultimate goal,” said Jon Schwartz, co-director of the ACES Institute and associate dean of graduate studies at the UH College of Education.

The students participated in educational activities such as making slime and designing T-shirts, played trivia, learned about different majors, and posed for photos with mascots Shasta and Sasha.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” said Kalecia Polk, a teacher from Foster Elementary who accompanied the students. “Just being on a college campus – maybe it will help them realize they can get here. It’s close, and it’s attainable.”

Polk and her coworker Mona Vaughn said many of their students have never been to UH, although it’s only two miles away.

The visit, Vaughn said, was a welcome break after standardized testing.

“That seems more punitive. This is more rewarding,” she said.

Fifth-grader Asia Flower said she enjoyed her first assignment on a college campus – solving multiplication and division problems. She’s not sure where she’ll go to college but knows she’s going.

“I want to be a cancer doctor so I can help people get better,” the 11-year-old said.

Elwyn Lee, a former Blackshear and Yates student who now serves as UH’s vice president for community relations and institutional access, snuck in a lesson on entrepreneurship as he welcomed the fifth-graders Tuesday. Lee oversees UH’s Third Ward Initiative, which focuses on improving education, health, business and the arts in the historic community through strong partnerships.

On Wednesday, the high school students caught on quickly when College of Education Dean Bob McPherson asked them the most important question … “Whose house?”

Faculty and staff from the College of Education, Bauer College of Business and Valenti School of Communication worked with the students. In addition, the youngsters got to interact with UH students involved with the Cougar Tutors organization and the Cougar Literacy Corps-AmeriCorps program. The Cougar Tutors, who serve as tutors and mentors at Yates and Sterling throughout the year, helped create and facilitate the activities during the campus visit – explaining the science behind slime and helping make the subject fun.

Mia Bradford, a senior manager of college readiness in the Houston Independent School District, said she was pleased to partner with UH on the campus visits because research shows it’s important to talk to students early about college and careers. “It’s too late in 12th grade,” she said.

She also praised the uniqueness of this campus experience, which included hands-on projects and interactions with faculty, staff and students, instead of only a walking tour and information session.

“One of the best methods of learning is through exposure and experience,” Bradford said. “This was an experience – something that will be remembered – rather than people talking at you.”

Xavier Malveaux, a junior from Sterling, and Kazsia Cosey, a junior from Yates, said they enjoyed the scavenger hunt – running around campus and getting information about important topics like financial aid and how Advanced Placement credit works in college.

Both students recalled visiting their first college campus in seventh grade and said they were glad UH was arranging for students in elementary school to get the same chance.

“Now even minimum wage jobs, it’s getting to the point you need a college degree,” Cosey said.

Sarah Fard, program director for the ACES Institute, said she hopes the campus visits become an annual experience.

“We had a blast putting these events together and watching the students engage with UH students, faculty and staff,” Fard said. “We also want the youth in our community to know that we are always here for them as they consider their future educational and career goals. These last two days were just the start!”

–Photos by Kathy Patnaude and Jaime Questell