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The University of Vermont SAT Preparatory Course for Underprivileged High School Students in Vermont
Our goal with this service project was to develop a weekly course for local high school students who are unable to afford a commercial SAT prep course or who come from a background where there is little support and guidance with regard to preparing for college. Because of the sizeable refugee population in the Burlington, VT area, we planned to focus on providing the course for students who come from these underserved immigrant families. At the start of our project, a local high school agreed to provide us with classroom space to use during after-school hours.
The initial class consisted of a mix of students, both local multi-generation Vermonters as well as students from recent immigrant families—most of Somali and Sudanese origin. Early on in the project, we came to the realization that the reading and writing components of the SATs were too large of a hurdle for the newer English-speakers in our class to master during the limited time we would be spending with them over the next four months. It was agreed upon by the SAT class teachers and students alike that the students’ after-school hours would be better spent completing homework assignments and developing the critical reading and grammar skills necessary as a pre-requisite for the SATs. The compromise we reached was to conduct the SAT course as planned with our native English-speaking students while concurrently providing an “open-house” style homework help session for the students who would benefit more from expanding their fundamental skills by doing their assigned coursework. For many of these students, participating in the SAT component of the course would have translated to incomplete homework assignments, and it was decided that receiving the help necessary to complete homework was more of a priority.
We were fortunate in that after some slow moving sessions initially, our project picked up the momentum we had hoped for, with exponential increases in classroom participation by the students. During the months that we worked with these students, it was apparent that their confidence levels improved greatly. One of the most striking changesand a major goal of our projectwas the increased level of ownership the students seemed to take with regard to their academic success. Across the board, we saw that our students were making fewer excuses for their academic performances and had become more proactive about learning new concepts and making the effort to improve their abilities.
After starting out an as an initiative with the planned involvement of numerous medical students and a rotating teaching schedule, the project evolved to be more focused and individualized. After learning that the cultural and social background of our high school students would require a great effort on our part as teachers to develop a trusting and longitudinal relationship with them, we decided to limit ourselves to three permanent teachers. During our weekly three hour sessions, we would start off with a competitive vocabulary game where three teams would race to provide definitions for words that would be read off from the same flashcards they were given to study from at home. These vocabulary games quickly became the highlight of each session, and based on their healthy competitiveness, it was clear that the students progressively spent more time studying at home. Following the vocabulary game, we would give a twenty minute lecture describing test strategies or teaching specific math concepts relevant to the test. The students were then timed as they completed a practice SAT section before breaking off into smaller groups to discuss each question in detail with one of our teachers. We designed the class this way so that students would be doing actual SAT test sections during every one of our meetings, and so that learning could occur in a more tailored and non-threatening environment.
Participating in this service project was an enlightening and immensely worthwhile experience for the three University of Vermont medical students involved. We improved our abilities to interact effectively with adolescents and to relate to their experiences and challenges. Working with students who have varying levels of knowledge, and in some cases, varying levels of English-speaking ability, taught us to be more patient, accommodating and compassionate.
As medical students, one of the most important things we learned from this experience is that some people carry a huge burden on their shouldersincluding unhealthy family situations, financial limitations, and stressful peer pressuresand as care-providers, we need to be attentive to these needs. Our participants would have seemed like “normal” high school students to most people, but as their teachers during the project, we learned that their lives were much more complex. This understanding is something that all of us involved in conducting the AOA sponsored project will take into the clinic with us and will remember throughout our careers.
In culmination of our SAT course, four of our students were administered a full length, proctored exam at a classroom in the University of Vermont Medical Education Building. All aspects of the SAT test were simulated as accurately as possible to ensure an effective practice session. Our students are well on their way to having the scores they need for admission to college, and over the next few months, they will continue practicing and improving upon the skills we have taught them. They are all planning to take the SATs in late spring, and we are confident that their scores will increase significantly as they master the information we have provided them and as they continue to expand their vocabulary and critical reading skills. The medical students involved have agreed to continue being mentors for our high school participants, and have offered to help guide them through the college application process later this year.
Updated on February 7, 2012.
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