Officials at the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City School District say they expect a U.S. Department of Education grant will dramatically increase college preparedness among the city’s low-income students.

The school district and OU’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education were awarded a seven-year, $26 million grant designed to improve college readiness and boost high school graduation rates.

Staff from OU’s K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal will work with about 4,500 sixth- and seventh-grade students at 10 low-income middle schools: Centennial, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, John Marshall, Northeast, Rogers, Roosevelt, Taft and Webster.

Scott Wilson, OU’s director for innovative technologies, said OU staff will work with school leaders, faculty members, parents and students during the project. The staffers begin working with sixth- and seventh-grade students and follow that cohort until graduation, he said.

Although the program focuses on a single cohort of students, he said, it will still have an impact on classes that follow in later years because it will leave behind teachers who are better equipped and have more resources to draw on. In that sense, he said, the grant’s impact will be sustained for years after the funding period is over.

One of the goals of the program, he said, is to help teachers tailor their instruction to allow students to take a larger role in what they do in class. That style of instruction helps students understand how the lessons they’re learning apply to the real world.


Part of the aim of the program is to make students more comfortable with the idea of going to college, Wilson said. To do that, coordinators will try to get students onto a college or university campus at least once a year.

In the early years, those college visits may not have anything to do with the institution itself, he said. For example, students may go to a college campus to learn to use handheld GPS devices to log longitude and latitude.

While such activities could easily be done nearly anywhere in the city, holding them on campus helps students get a better idea of what college looks like.

“They can see themselves there,” he said. “They can see other students walking around that, maybe, look like them.”

As the students get older and closer to graduation, the campus experience would get more heavily geared toward college preparedness, he said. Coordinators will speak with students about why college is important. Students may go to a campus and complete a miniature college schedule to help them get a better idea of how college life differs from high school, he said.

The program also includes summer experiences, including one that brings students with their parents to a campus to share a dorm room. Not only does that experience give students a better idea of what going to college would be like, it also helps ease the minds of parents who, in many cases, have no experience with college themselves, he said.

That component of the program has the potential to have a major impact in students’ thoughts about college, said Sheli McAdoo, the school district’s executive director of secondary schools and reform.

If the program can get students engaged with campus activities, rather than simply putting them on campus, it will help them get a better idea of how they might fit into a college setting. That could get students, as well as parents who didn’t go to college, more used to the idea of higher education.

“I certainly see it having a big impact on our current sixth- and seventh-graders,” she said.


This article first appeared in the March 8 issue of The Oklahoman.
By Silas Allen, Oklahoman Staff Writer


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