As part of her group therapy class, Cristina, a mother of three, and several other STU mental health counseling graduate students participated in the Success Academy, a program that helps students with behavioral issues.
“I was a little nervous,” said Cristina. “Up to that point all my experience came from text books and lectures, and now I was stepping into the real world, helping kids with real problems.”
The Success Academy is part of STU’s newly formed partnership with Carol City Middle School. In February 2015, St. Thomas University and Carol City Middle School established the STU-Carol City Middle School Community Educational Partnership (STU-CCMS CEP), a partnership to improve education in Miami Gardens.
This five-year partnership connects the community, schools, students and parents with university expertise, resources and research-based intervention programs to address the pressing educational and social needs of students at CCMS, a school in one of the most challenged communities in Florida.
The STU-CCMS partnership is a long-term initiative that integrates a variety of university engagement elements, from volunteer activities to internships, to courses in different disciplines, all with one goal – student success. Specifically, the partnership is aimed at improving student attendance, behavior, course grades and standardized test scores.
“Many times we think that you can improve schools simply by offering more tutoring. But the truth is that it’s much more complicated than that,” said Anthony Vinciguerra, coordinator for STU’s Center for Community Engagement. “We’ve been lucky to bring STU faculty together with an incredible team at CCMS to support not only students’ academic challenges, but also their behavioral issues and social services needs as well.”
The program, based on the national Diplomas Now initiative, collects data during quarterly “Report Card Reviews” where STU students are matched with CCMS students to evaluate their grades, and collect information on their challenges inside and outside of the classroom. The data is compiled and analyzed by students in courses such as applied psychology and psychological statistics to provide a birds-eye view to the CCMS administration on student challenges, and support them in formulating a plan for improvement. The information gathered helps determine which students need tutoring in specific subjects, counselling, and/or social services.
Professors Judith Bachay and Jeffrey Pickens, both long-time participants in the program, agree the partnership is a transformative one that allows STU students and CCMS students to learn and grow from each other.
“Working in the STU-CCMS partnership allows STU students to apply what they are learning in a context that makes a difference,” said Bachay, counseling professor and director of STU’s graduate program.
The program has even inspired recent graduates like Segane Robinson, STU’s new Americorp-VISTA member, to continue volunteering at the school.
“I love working at CCMS,” Robinson said. “I grew up in the same environment as these kids, so I understand and can relate to what a lot of them are going through. I want them to know that despite the challenges, they can still succeed.”
After five years of “F” status, CCMS is on the move. In 2016, the school saw 38 percent of its students improve their English language arts scores, 31 percent improve their math scores, and there was a 57% decrease in suspensions.
As the 2016-17 year comes to an end, Vinciguerra is hopeful.
“This is not just about St. Thomas. This is truly a community effort,” he said. It takes all of us: St. Thomas faculty and students, our community partners, and most importantly the incredible teachers and administrators of Carol City Middle School. It takes all of us all working together to make a difference.”
Carol City Middle School’s results for the 2016/17 school year will be available mid-July.
Other elements of the partnership include:
- STU-CCMS Community-Engaged Leader Corp Tutors: Facilitated by the STU Center for Community Engagement and the Office of Financial Aid, STU students are able to work under a CCMS teacher’s supervision to provide in-class reading and math support while earning federal work-study dollars.
- STU First Year Orientation “Bobcats Serve” Days: Every year during orientation, all of STU’s incoming first-year students spend a full day working on beautification efforts at CCMS. The event exposes STU students to the importance of service in the community, while providing CCMS with thousands of dollars in painting and landscaping.
- STU-CCMS College is Cool Days: In collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement and STU’s Office of Student Affairs, STU students organize college awareness events that provide CCMS eight graders with an introduction to campus life, college athletics, college faculty guest lecturers, as well as a college application workshop.
For more information on the STU/Carol City Middle School Community Educational Partnership, and STU’s other engaged learning activities in the community, contact the STU Center for Community Engagement: email@example.com.