ASPIRE program encourages high school students
Carol Wong, associate professor in the School of Education, works with students in the ASPIRE program.
Sarah Harrison leads an ASPIRE program session.
Brandon Harrison, center, works with ASPIRE students.
ASPIRE program leaders and student interns.
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9:15 a.m., July 13, 2009----The ASPIRE program at the University of Delaware, directed by Melva Ware, a program director in the Delaware Center for Teacher Education, has developed component activities that are designed to encourage Delaware high school students to prepare to join the UD campus community.

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The summer activities are staffed by ASPIRE members who are teacher education majors and other UD students who share ASPIRE's outreach mission, which is to help more Delaware students prepare to join the University of Delaware community. ASPIRE was established in 1991 to respond to a recognized national and state need to recruit more members of underrepresented groups into teaching and other related careers.

Ware said these emerging activities serve as a pipeline of supportive services for underrepresented students as young as eighth grade. The summer activities are designed to help students define themselves as members of an achievement-focused student community.

The students interact with peers who value academic achievement and with college student role models who provide information and a glimpse of college life. In 2009, the middle and high school students were selected based on their grades and teacher recommendations. School of Education professors Carol Wong and Shuaib Meacham worked with Ware to develop many of the activities.

“The guidance provided in these programs reflects UD's Commitment to Delawareans; we are essentially making the Commitment a living document and using it to help students plan their high school careers,” Ware said.

Aspiring Teacher Summer Internships

This component places high school seniors and entering freshmen into community programs as teacher assistants for a three-week period. This year the activities took place from June 8-26.

In the second year of operation, the internships nurture an interest in teacher education as a career pathway. The interns are typically interested in working with children and youth development, and for many the opportunity to support instruction cements their plans to pursue teaching as a career. During the three-week summer period, they also develop relationships with UD students, faculty, and staff to encourage enrollment as majors in teacher education at UD.

Most of the 2009 interns worked at Head Start centers assisting the Early Reading First literacy coaches. Their work involved reading to children and organizing activities to enhance literacy.

“It's basically going back to first grade,” UD entering freshman Quindara Lazenbury said.

ASPIRE members and two of the summer interns helped to pilot a new relationship with the Fraim Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington. They worked with middle school students to develop digital stories that are mini memoirs. The young storytellers brought artifacts and pictures from home, took additional digital pictures, found images and music on the internet to tell their personal stories. Several of the boys were inspired by the story of intern Vernon Robinson, who chronicled his year as captain of the William Penn basketball team, the 2009 Delaware state champions.

LaKeisha Waters, a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington, said that the interns help serve as a role model for the younger students.

“The kids truly learn everything you do, and it's great to see the smiles on their faces when you come into a room,” she said. “They really do appreciate you and what you do.”

On Fridays, the interns spent time on the UD campus learning about University of Delaware programs that provide preparation for career options related to teaching, leadership, and youth development, with a specific focus on preparing to work with students who face challenges in succeeding in school.

Academic Leadership Week

This year marked the first year of ASPIRE's Academic Leadership Week, a program component designed for high school students going into 8-10th grades. Activities help them develop leadership skills, reinforce study skills, and build achievement-centered community.

Students worked in groups and developed plans to offer peer tutoring services in their churches, community centers and schools. The students learned about earning the Presidential Award and the Delaware volunteer credit once they complete 90 hours of service, which ASPIRE will help them document based on quarterly reviews of their service hours and grades. Students can only tutor in subjects in which they have earned at least a grade of B. During the week students reviewed organizational skills, worked on resume building, and made many new friends.

Daily icebreaker activities were led by Brandon Harrison, a 2005 graduate of UD's College of Health Sciences who is currently working in community health for a nonprofit organization. The icebreakers helped teach lessons to students related to important topics needed for success, such as public speaking or asking questions.

Harrison said he thinks the kids got a lot out of the program because of the environment that the program provided.

“At school, they see a lot of peers who are underachievers who don't have many goals,” he said. “Here, everybody is a hard worker and a leader. They see that, and it motivates them more.”

For people like Harrison, who also tutors students in his spare time, being involved with ASPIRE is inspirational. It is wonderful to be able to help students focus on their own objectives and begin to plan to meet them.

According to Ware, these students are bright and motivated, and one of the major objectives the Academic Leadership week is to help them begin to envision themselves as University of Delaware students.

College Awareness Reaching Everyone (CARE)

The entire ASPIRE student team worked evenings during the three-week summer period to develop CARE, a curriculum that they will introduce to middle and high school students during campus workshops beginning in October, 2009. Workshop topics range from why education is important, to choosing the right high school classes, to preparing and applying to colleges and how to deal with acceptances and denials.

“Some of these kids haven't thought about college yet,” Nathalie Agnant, a sophomore elementary education major, said. “It's a really good feeling to help and give back to the community.”

ASPIRE members who were involved in the 2009 summer activities include: Taria Pritchett, ASPIRE president; Kara Cashwell, ASPIRE vice president; Nathalie Agnant, Teresita Mariano, Kalisha Carrington, Stacey Chambers, and Christa Jimerson.

Soh Han, a doctoral student in education, supported the summer activities, working specifically with Prof. Shuaib Meacham to establish a framework for dialogic interactions among the pre-college students and between the college and pre-college students. She will follow the work into the fall and collect data to document implementation of the college planning workshops.

Article by Jon Bleiweis
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson