UH Can Do Project shows kids can do well in school

by David Monroe

News Reporter

Designed to help underprivileged middle-school children in the Houston Independent School District, the Can Do project at the UH College of Education has expanded into a multischool tutoring success.

Initiated at Ezekiel Cullen Middle School in 1993, the Can Do Project now serves more than 200 students at five HISD elementary, middle and high schools. Future plans call for further expansion of the program.

"The Can Do project provides inner-city HISD students with positive role models and tutors," said Tia English, project director for the Texas Center for University School Projects.

She said the program's goals can be very important to young children growing up in inner-city communities, such as the Third Ward and Sunnyside.

The project's main goal is to increase academic achievement while decreasing the incidence of delinquency, truancy, violence and criminal activity of at-risk minority youth. The program targets students who are performing poorly in school or are exhibiting significant behavioral problems.

"Over 80 percent of the program's at-risk student participants have shown an increase in their academic coursework and have demonstrated a decrease in the number of discipline incidents," English said.

She said this figure, coupled with the statistics from a Cullen Middle School report that showed students in the project had a 94 percent attendance rate vs. 89 percent for the school as a whole, proves the program is working.

English said the success of the program is true for more than just HISD students.

The project is also a success for the 50 students from various colleges within UH who tutor and mentor their younger counterparts. Mentoring provides economically needy minority students with viable financial support to assist them in continuing their college education.

"The UH tutors work about 10 to 14 hours per week with their chosen school, mentoring and tutoring students based on their needs for remediation," English said.

To date, students have given more than 5,000 hours of their own time to the HISD students.

English said two former Can Do tutors are now full-time teachers for HISD, and others have gone on to full-time positions in their chosen fields or are currently pursuing graduate study.

The project works under the direction of three primary components: an academic after-school component, a recreational/educational component and a parental/community involvement component.

The academic component consists of an after-school program located on the HISD school campuses, where students receive academic enrichment remediation and mentoring. Tutorial assistance is provided in reading, writing, mathematics, school assignments, test taking and social skills.

Wellington Cox, the teacher in charge of Can Do at Cullen Middle School, said, "We specialize in small group tutoring, concentrating in math, reading and TAAS test taking."

He said the small group setting increases students' self-confidence, resulting in higher self-esteem and grades.

In the recreational/educational components, students go on field trips designed to assist them in broadening their vision beyond their neighborhood streets.

Meanwhile, the parental/community involvement component focuses on the parents' role in education.

Cox said his school is heavily involved in improving communication within the family and in incorporating the family into the project.

"We try to get all the parents of the kids involved -- to come to school and help in some form with the program," Cox said.

Elouise Behrends, the teacher in charge of Can Do at Thompson Elementary, said, "Our small groupings have had a great impact on the level of reading and mathematics for the students."

English said, "Houston ISD could not be more happy with the results we have had with this project. They have stated that they would like to have Can Do in all HISD middle schools, but our organization simply does not have sufficient personnel or financial resources to replicate this program."

Major funding for the project -- none of which goes toward administrative costs -- comes from local businesses like Foley's and Compass Bank, as well as the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast and the DePelchin Children's Center.

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