Campus and Community

Urban Education Students Mentoring Middle Schoolers

Diane Miller meets with Arnold students and parents.

The transition from middle school to high school isn’t always easy. What seems like a small step is often a giant leap for some students. Those who aren’t prepared for this academic shift might experience challenges that linger long after the 12th grade.

Thanks to the University of Houston-Downtown’s Urban Education Department, a group of female Arnold Middle School seventh and eighth graders are receiving additional guidance to help them transition to high school.

The project was initiated by Arnold teacher Mariela Delgado. She contacted friend and collaborator Dr. Diane Miller, UHD assistant professor of literacy, to help oversee a bi-weekly mentorship and academic program at Arnold. Miller recruited five UHD Urban Education students (all female) to develop and deliver lesson plans for the Arnold seventh and eighth graders every other week.

“The goal of this program is to set these students on a positive trajectory toward high school,” Miller said. “Some students begin high school with a defeatist attitude and have the potential to drop out. Or, if they do graduate, that’s it; they’ve said ‘no’ to college before they get to high school. We’re trying to show them the things they can do.”

Recent statistics suggest that middle schoolers might require the kind of additional guidance provided by the UHD students. A study from the Center for Public Policy Priorities indicated that 8 percent of Texas students who dropped during the 2014 -15 school year out were in middle school.

Classroom activities take a detour from traditional academic subjects and explore topics, such as self-esteem, teamwork, goal setting, trust, conflict resolution and building confidence. Interactive exercises have included “Believe in Your Selfie,” which offered the Arnold students an opportunity to create positive hashtags about each other. Another activity was a Valentine’s Day-themed exercise in which each student created a card for herself … and identified what she loved about herself.

“That (the Valentine’s Day-themed project) was actually a hard task for some of these students,” Miller said. “Some of these students had no idea what appreciative things to write about themselves.”

At the conclusion of the school year, the Urban Education students will bring their middle school pupils to UHD for a campus tour and the opportunity to meet UHD President Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz and University of Houston System Regent Paula Mendoza. For some of these Arnold students, the trip will be their first visit to a university and to Downtown Houston.

“They will be able to meet some amazing people and see the great things UHD has to offer,” said Ashley Chacon, one of the participating Urban Education students. “This will help them realize that it’ s possible to go to college and there’ s something they can possibly look forward to in the future.”

For the UHD Urban Education students, the opportunity to work with middle school students is rewarding on many levels. It also offers an invaluable opportunity to develop their skills as educators.

“This experience has really given me the confidence to become a teacher,” Chacon said. “One of my biggest takeaways is the experience of planning lessons and time management in the classroom.”

UHD students also learned how to be mentors to these middle schoolers. Chacon understands the pressures faced by seventh and eighth-graders and is grateful to lend advice to these students.

“Middle school can be a rough time … at least it was for me,” Chacon said. “So, I try to be the kind of mentor I needed when I was in middle school. I feel that this program gives these girls an opportunity to be themselves and have a safe place where they can be open and share things. I think they now have more self-confidence and believe in themselves.”