Final CUOS K–12 Education Outreach Program Report, March 2002

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III. Nuts & Bolts: Replicating Our Organization, part 3

B. Strategies, part 3

3. Build in time for reflection, preferably in groups

Our coordinators need to spend regular time together with their advisor, communicating exactly what they are experiencing and what they require in terms of support. They need to be periodically refocused on their goals, helped to brainstorm solutions to problems, and able to enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of others in the same position. If this time is not actually scheduled, it tends never to be found. We get so caught up in being busy that we never sit back and look at our work from an objective perspective. We also, then, fail to appreciate just what we are accomplishing—and this sense of purpose is vital to keeping us going!

    We have all found our Team Meetings very worthwhile; to those out in the field by themselves, they have been simply invaluable. In fact, whenever someone has been unable to return regularly to “home base” for this purpose, that program never reached effectiveness or has gradually fallen apart. For example, we have attempted to establish school-based learning communities with a community woman as coordinator in three places: Pontiac, Detroit, and Ypsilanti. The greatest and longest-lasting success was achieved in Pontiac, where the coordinator has a terrific record of driving almost weekly to Ann Arbor (truly an ordeal!) for meetings, even when there did not seem to be a crying need for it. Susan Shoemaker has repeatedly remarked over the years that, much as she dreads the driving, touching base like that grounds her, recharges her, “pulls her back in” when she has gotten overextended, and helps her to guide the evolution of programs to meet changed circumstances.

    A similar attempt was made at a Detroit middle school, but it was abandoned after a year. There were a number of problems with this site that contributed to our decision to move on, but a big one was distance. Ms. Shoemaker in Pontiac has made an exception to the rule—that learning communities must be local—by sheer determination and talent. Our Detroit coordinator was simply unable to spend enough time with us, nor we on site with her, to make it work there.

    When we moved to an Ypsilanti elementary school, things went quite well for a couple of years, but after coordinator Sherri Ahearn changed jobs and was no longer free to come to Ann Arbor regularly, we lost the “center” that held things together there. Other program variations, such as a year of in-classroom science clubs run by UM student volunteers and a garden club and a science wizards program run by UM Outreach liaison Doris Calvert, had their own successes, but they were no longer involving the local community in the purposeful way that Ms. Ahearn had been able to do.

group at Career Fair
Burt presenting aviation careers - Career Fair at The Neutral Zone

    So, our recommendation would be to keep programs close enough to home to allow for frequent and regular meetings. A true learning community is best formed within a genuine community; people have a personal stake in their own neighborhoods and cities that they do not have elsewhere. When we all share community space, we encounter each other around town—as our coordinators and volunteers do, constantly running into “their kids” at the grocery store, the movie theater, or the mall. The children love the opportunity to introduce their mentors to their parents, siblings, or friends! This proximity also allows us to serve the same children in many ways (science club, summer camp, summer algebra, career mentoring, academic mentoring) that can follow them as they grow, rebuilding community support around them.

    An alternative to staying in your own backyard could be to develop an “ambassador” program, as our Reach Out! student group would dearly love to do, to send coaches out into the field to guide others for an extended period through the process of establishing programs like ours. (Several recent UM and Reach Out! graduates are seriously interested in serving a Peace Corps–like stint as ambassadors, if we can secure funding for such a program expansion.)

4. Take advantage of the availability of young adult volunteers.

We have had some difficulty convincing people at UM that our kind of outreach has anything whatever to do with the “core mission” of the university. Years ago, we might even have agreed, but no longer. The testimony from our young adults about the impact of the work on their own development is both startling and gratifying. How could we have thought we were educating them before? In Appendix B to this report, please find the chart of our goals for them. In the Voices running down the right sides of these pages, note how transforming their experiences were for them. Even if nothing of consequence were happening for the children and teens with whom they work, it would still be worthwhile for the maturation this service stimulates in the volunteers. We believe the change in them will make a lifelong difference in their lives and for their future families and communities.

    But what if you don’t have a university right down the street? We have had some success with car- or van-pooling volunteers to other communities but don’t recommend it in general. It calls for a much larger time commitment from volunteers—and college students haven’t a lot of time to spare. Instead, why not involve other groups within your own community? We’d suggest church groups, police cadet programs, scouting groups, teen clubs, National Honor Society groups, and so forth. They need not be college-age: high school teens help out in some of our science clubs, and middle and upper elementary students mentor primary-age students. They all gain a great deal from the experience.

5. Pay your coordinators—they're not a frill!

We learned early that a large-scale volunteer program needs to pay coordinators. Organizing volunteers, planning and preparing activities, keeping good records, and handling roadblocks and problems in the field requires a lot of time and dedication—too much to ask of volunteers, especially college undergraduates. They have a lot to do and to be distracted by, and need help accepting the need for responsibility and reliability in a coordinator. Paying them—even though their work-study or other stipends are not much more than minimum wage, and the hours for which they are paid are much fewer than those they actually work—makes all the difference. When it is their job, they know that people are counting on them and the work has to get done. Sometimes they will delegate to trusted volunteers when school commitments interfere, but they take the responsibility to see that things get done as needed.

boy launching a rocket
Enthusiastic camper launching a
compressed-air-powered rocket!

    Similarly, our mothers and other community coordinators have been paid modestly to coordinate science clubs, career clubs, and other programs, to great effect compared to the amount of money invested. Being paid shows respect for their time, as well as reinforcing their responsibility for programming. Their being paid allows us to require their attendance at team meetings. And, as Ms. Shoemaker has pointed out, even a modest pay rate can make an enormous difference to an urban mother trying to justify working where her heart is instead of where the money is.


C. Voices, continued

You’re trying to show us how math gets used. I really like that.

- Summer algebra student

I really liked the Chrysler trip. I liked the van ride on the roads and the test track and oval. I liked the crash impact lab and the dummies. I liked the wind tunnel. This would be a way cool place to work. And when you’re in college in the summers, you can be a driver. You have to have no tickets and they do drug testing. You guys are trying to show us how math gets used and jobs we might like to think about. I really like that part of this summer.

I really didn’t know what college you needed to be a vet, but I do now.

- Middle school career mentee

I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. Well, [my mentor and I] visited a vet. She was so nice and took so much time with us. She showed us all around and let us be with her when she examined a puppy. She talked about all the school and college you need to be a vet and how everybody told her she couldn’t be one. She didn’t do well at college and she got rejected from lots of vet schools, but she didn’t give up. She loves what she does. She said I could be a vet tech, too, to see if I liked it, and still decide to become a vet later on. I could get training just by working at a vet’s office to be a vet tech, or I can go to a college for a couple of years. Or I can work hard and go to college four years and try to get into a vet school. It’s real hard, though. I really didn’t know what college you needed to be a vet but I do now. I think that maybe I’ll be a vet tech first. I really like this program. It’s helped me a lot. [The vet] told me I could work part-time there, too, and that would help me know if I really wanted to work with animals.

They are making me see that this is up to me.

- Summer algebra student

I think I got things, well, I’d say, “broadly” in math. This summer I’m looking at what I’d say are the details. Like I get something overall but I don’t know the skills or like how to use them in a different way. I’m seeing that I have to think about self-motivation, too. Sometimes in school I just don’t pay attention, or I’m tired, or I’m thinking about something else and I kind of don’t care. Like I’ll know what to do, the assignment, but I don’t do it. Or I do some of it. Or I don’t get it turned in. My [summer] teachers are making me see that this is up to me, like, the teacher isn’t going to check on me or tell me to do it or get it in. I think I have to be self-motivated.

I need some friends that are okay about people thinking they are smart.

- Summer algebra student

This summer is making me think about my friends. I mean, a lot of my friends, well, they don’t really like school. When I’m with them, I don’t have to think about school or homework and things like that. [Our instructors] have been saying how we have to take care of ourselves, you know, like how well we do in school [determines] what we can do when we get out of high school. I think I know that, but I need to think more about it. I know that you can’t get into good colleges if you don’t have good grades. I think I need some friends that are doing school, that are okay about people thinking they are smart or being like a teacher’s pet. Like they say, high school really is going to count. I’m thinking about that.

We have something very important to share—ourselves.

- Kiwanis career mentor

Career mentoring is very important for all of us. I started out thinking that I didn’t really have much to share. But now, I see that I can share my life, where I have been and where I am. I can share how to start your own company, how to have goals and not give up on them, how to reach out and gain from other people in your life. How to not give up on yourself. How to think about what you are really good at and then to look at jobs you could have that will apply, that so you can be happy about your work. I can share things about my life, how I went to college but ended up having my own company. I really believe that helping them look at their personalities and learning styles is also important. I’ve learned a lot about learning, too, from this. We all learn in different ways, and that is okay. But we need to know about ourselves so we can choose classes and goals that are realistic and will lead to success, not failure. I really enjoy this and I hope we get more of us (Kiwanis members) involved. We have something very important to share—ourselves.

I don’t think there really are geeks. I think they are just the kids that are taking school seriously.

- Summer algebra student

There’s a big game going on in classes at school. Like some popular kids act like they don’t care. Maybe some don’t, but some do, and they sort of secretly get the work done and secretly do good, but you don’t know. Some are going to act bad and all, like they don’t care, and some of them really don’t. Some won’t raise their hand to give an answer ’cause it isn’t cool, or sometimes they don’t know the answers but wish that they did. Some people will look down on those who are doing good and call them geeks. I don’t think there really are geeks. I think they are just the kids that are taking school seriously and have it as their goal to do well, you know? But popular people and bad people, they all call them geeks. I feel for teachers sometimes because of all the games going on.... Some are really mean or grouchy or don’t like kids. I think it’s because of all the games going on.


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