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Partnerships aim to make college less daunting

March 10, 2008

Imagine a first-generation student coming to ASU for the first time. A university environment might be totally alien to anything he or she has ever known. Family members may not know what to expect from college, much less have the wherewithal to finance the endeavor.

“This is a daunting place,” says Eugene Garcia, vice president of the Office for Education Partnerships at the ASU downtown Phoenix campus.

That’s where Education Partnerships can intervene – ideally from the time a child is 3 years old. The Office for Education Partnerships was created in 2006 by ASU President Michael Crow to bring ASU resources to schools throughout the state by enhancing academic achievement, working to improve high-school completion rates and increasing the number of students in Arizona who go to college.

“This is not a program to bring more kids to ASU,” Garcia says. “We want to bring kids to college in general.”
Education Partnerships is doing exactly that by working with about 35 different schools primarily in downtown Phoenix, southern Phoenix and the West Side school districts. ASU combines its resources with those available in the school districts and with area businesses and organizations interested in enhancing education.

“What we try to do is provide possibilities,” Garcia says.

Four primary areas are the focus of Education Partnerships starting with early childhood education and programs such as Head Start. Bringing excellent teachers to the areas where they are needed most is another focus of the program. Awarding scholarships, placing teachers in partner schools and retaining them through mentoring are tools to ensure teachers stay where they need to be in Arizona’s schools.

“You have to find the best teachers to make these efforts work,” Garcia says.

Leadership efforts focus on administrators and principals who know how to work with kids.

“Arizona currently has a shortage of about 200 principals that must be addressed,” Garcia says.

The fourth focus area supports students, schools and families through avenues such as after-school programs, service learning and family developmental programs.

These areas of focus appeared to have aligned nicely with goals in the Isaac School District when Garcia, Crow and Sen. Richard Miranda visited the district to meet with school superintendents. The district covers an area from Van Buren Street to Indian School, and from 27th to 51st avenues.

“That visit was the first and most remarkable step that ASU has ever taken in this part of the Valley,” says Kent Scribner, Isaac School District superintendent. “ASU’s presence is greater today than it has ever been in the Isaac School District.”

Results have been overwhelmingly positive thus far.

“At the beginning of the partnership, we only had two performing schools,” Scribner says. “Today we have eight performing or better schools, including the first-ever highly performing school.”

Encouraging youth to experience the university is another vital aspect of the program. More than 200 students are brought to ASU through youth programs, where students from fourth grade to high school learn about subjects such as music and theater during six-week-long programs.

Visiting ASU’s campus helps demystify the university experience for Isaac School District students where 93 percent live at or below the federal poverty line and where just 20 percent of parents have a high-school degree or better. Many students and parents in the district are now planning for college.

“Our parents want and expect their students to attend a university,” Scribner says. “ASU has left a very powerful and positive imprint on the Isaac community.”

Impacts throughout Arizona school districts are made possible through partnerships with area businesses and organizations. Students who have never been to the zoo, a baseball game or theater production can experience these culturally enriching events through informal learning partnerships with Valley organizations. The Office for Educational Partnerships also relies on about 18 different ASU units, and up to 50 faculty members throughout the university, working together to improve education in Arizona.

“We’d like to double that,” Garcia says.

The office also is developing a partnership with ASU Intercollegiate Athletics where athletes will mentor seventh- and eighth-graders by meeting with students at their schools and bringing them to the university.

“We know that kids who mentor actually profit from mentoring,” Garcia says.