Educational Partnership Center offers array of summer programs

The Educational Partnership Center's summer programs transform student lives with academic and leadership preparation, says director Carrol Moran. Photo courtesy of Jaimie Vargas.

This summer, middle and high school students did more than relax at the beach or play with friends. Instead, many hit the books and took advantage of a wide variety of academic enrichment programs offered by the UCSC Educational Partnership Center (EPC).

Students built robots, designed video games, solved math word problems, visited college campuses, and participated in mentoring workshops as part of the EPC's efforts to improve student academic achievement and help students prepare for college, during the summer as well as during the school year.

"These programs transform students' by lives helping students set new goals for college and careers, and parents learn to support the skills and work habits to get there. We hope this model of using summer school to advance students rather than remediate them will be adopted by schools in the region," said Carrol Moran, executive director of EPC.

Developed by the UC Office of the President and implemented statewide, the Summer Algebra Academy (SAA) is a four- to five-week program for ninth-grade students centered around a college-awareness theme. The academy is designed to increase student academic performance in math, introduce families to higher education, initiate systemic change in high schools, and create a college-going culture. EPC first piloted the program in 2006 and expanded it this summer to seven SAA sites across Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Santa Clara Counties, serving more than 500 students.

"It goes far beyond algebra learning to dream and build a plan to realize your dream," said EPC deputy director Pablo Reguerin. "Algebra is a tool to prepare students for success in high school and reach their career and education goals."

SAA is a joint venture between EPC, partner K-12 schools and districts, and outreach programs under the EPC umbrella, such as the Early Academic Outreach Program, GEAR UP, and the MESA Schools Program. Unlike a remedial summer school program, the emphasis is on getting students ready for success in algebra in high school. SAA addresses many of the factors that influence the success of incoming high school students, including fear of facilities, connecting with a caring adult at a new school, easing the transition from middle to high school, and engaging parents and fostering strong school-family relationships. Often high school freshman do not understand the importance of ninth grade and under-perform in their classes, do not complete homework, and/or fail Algebra I, all of which contribute to the tenth-grade dropout problem, said Reguerin.

SAA is a strategic intervention to address these issues and prepare more students for academic success. Students received about 100 hours of engaging, hands-on mathematics curriculum and about 40 hours of college-readiness seminars, including field trips to UCSC and other college campuses. For many students and families, it was their first visit to a university and an eye-opening experience about the possibilities for their future. College-readiness seminars helped students develop an academic plan and learn important skills, including time management, note taking, and test taking. Concurrent parent academies taught parents about college systems and high school requirements.

Inspiring students to envision themselves as future engineers and scientists, the Girls in Engineering program brought 30 middle-school girls from Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties together for a unique, 12-day introduction to engineering at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering in June and July.

Designed to broaden the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline, students participated in variety of hands-on projects, from working in teams to build bridges and towers to solving difficult "challenge" problems. Students also learned to build and program a motorized robot to move on command and perform tasks and tricks.

Special guest speakers included UCSC associate professor of computer engineering Tracy Larrabee, undergraduate students, and three women engineers from the Santa Cruz City Water Department and City of Watsonville. Students also took exciting field trips to The Tech Museum of Innovation, Pacific Plastics and Engineering, and Google, as well as tours of the SURF-IT and renewable energy resources labs in the engineering school, and they participated in a scavenger hunt across campus.

"(Girls in Engineering) is a wonderful program for all girls. I came here thinking that engineering was only for men and it was completely nerdy," said a student participant. "Now that I think about it, I am totally wrong. Engineering opens up a whole new chance to do whatever I want."

Inspired by the vision of Jack Baskin and Peggy Downes Baskin and first piloted in 2006, the program is a collaborative effort between EPC, the Baskin School of Engineering, and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. EPC secured additional grant funding this year from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation; the AAUW Educational Foundation; and Cisco Foundation.

High school students also gave top marks to the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) program, a four-week residential program that offered 150 students an unparalleled opportunity to work side-by-side with outstanding researchers and university faculty, covering topics that extend beyond the typical high school curriculum.

UCSC faculty taught nine clusters, ranging from chemistry, robots, and nanotechnology to marine mammals and video game design. COSMOS Discovery Lectures featured special research presentations by UCSC faculty and other scientists, and students participated in the Intel Research Award Poster Presentation Competition, as well as workshops on graduate school, applying to UC, and financial aid. Field trips offered students behind-the-scenes access to Long Marine Laboratory, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Natural Bridges State Park, Lick Observatory, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and Año Nuevo State Reserve.

"Working in a real research lab and talking to actual researchers taught me a lot about real science," said COSMOS 2007 participant Gerald Junsay. "These four weeks gave me a whole new look at the field of science and math, and helped me realize I belong in the field."

COSMOS alumni are eligible to receive research awards and college scholarships and to attend the annual California Nobel Laureate event. This summer, 15 alumni participated in a six-week, full-time internship program at Cisco Systems. In addition, the COSMOS Teacher Fellow program pairs local math and science teachers with UCSC faculty; this year, the program included students in the Cal Teach program.

Finally, 100 ninth-grade students from the Pajaro Valley Unified School District convened at College 9 for the Summer Youth Leadership Conference (SYLC), a collaboration between EPC and Migrant Education Region XI. The three-day residential program focused on developing students' academic and leadership skills.

"Since the first SYLC, this conference has proven to change the mindset of traditionally non-college-going students," said EPC college facilitator Sofia Diaz. "It has created great high school leaders who have gone on to achieve their college aspirations, all the while creating a path for their peers and future generations to do the same."

The conference focused on developing students' leadership qualities and creating a cohort of "college ambassadors" who will become resources for their peers. The goal is to help students make a successful transition from middle school to high school; workshops included sessions on test taking, writing, and study skills. Students also learned about the A-G high school course pattern for college eligibility and high school "do's and don'ts."

High school peer mentors and undergraduate academic interns, including two UCSC students, are heavily involved in the planning process and are responsible for facilitating all group discussions and leading activities, said Diaz. "They are essential to the success of SYLC, because peer-to-peer outreach is an important part of leadership development," she said.

"Being able to help students make positive decisions and planting that little seed of motivation to reach higher education is such an amazing feeling," said peer mentor Monica Santana. "The best part of it all has been seeing my little brother participating and helping us all share, inspire, and create the leaders of the future."