By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant

In the last six years more than more than 500 student mentors from UTC have volunteered to help fourth and fifth graders at Brown Academy get excited about going to college.

Postsecondary Awareness With Success (PAWS) is making a difference.

“What it did for my daughter, it really did help her self-esteem. It helped her realize, ‘This is not all that I can be.’ They took her around and showed her different sites at UTC and different things students could do and that brought her hope,” says Jackie Husband, a PAWS parent.

PAWS began as an after-school initiative, established with a $40,000 grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. Cole referenced the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to find a researched, proven model to use with fourth and fifth grade students. The curriculum first used in the program was Positive Action With Success. The name of this curriculum is how the program derived its name.

UTC mentors delivered the programming by facilitating activities from Positive Action, providing homework assistance, panels, campus tours, and other special events.

“They helped me with the things that I didn’t quite understand. Like if I had a math problem or something that I needed help with, they helped me understand instead of just showing me answers,” says Armani Tooks, a former PAWS student.

As Cole noticed the effect PAWS had on the children at Brown Academy, she evolved the program from focusing on lowering juvenile delinquency to one keen on helping elementary-age students explore their postsecondary options. In 2010, PAWS shifted emphasis from “Positive Action With Success” to “Postsecondary Awareness With Success.” To make sure materials aligned with the goals of increasing postsecondary awareness, a new curriculum was designed to meet the needs of the program.  In 2011, the Center for Community Career Education published the comprehensive curriculum “Achieving the Dream: College Bound!” for the PAWS program.

“These kids are really hungry for the knowledge of college,” says Cole. “We’re not trying to have them pick their colleges or pick their majors or pick their careers, we just want them to understand that there’s a process to figuring all this out and the sooner they start thinking about it, the easier it is. What I see happening is the internal motivation switch being flipped on because of UTC mentors. And that’s more precious than anything.”

What are some of the burning questions Brown Academy students ask their UTC mentors?  They’ve got a lot on their minds.

“They’re very curious,” Cole reports.  They ask questions from “Do you live in a dorm?” to “Who washes your clothes?”

Sometimes a bit of fear creeps into the conversation.

“We found a couple of years ago that the thing they fear the most is forgetting the combination to their locker so we bought a bunch of combination locks. So now we have combination lock races to see who can open theirs the fastest,” explains Cole.

It’s not just the elementary school students who thrive in the program.  For the first time since the program’s inception in 2007, the PAWS program will be organized and run by students. These four veteran mentors, Jessica Koenn, Kerry Lindstrom, Jennifer Beckett, and Bernie Smith, will be serving as Classroom Coordinators, developing the PAWS curriculum and directing the action during activities for the upcoming year.

“We have a number of UTC students who didn’t join a fraternity or other clubs—this is where they felt they belonged,” says Cole.

PAWS is also now in the process of creating a UTC student organization to work hand-in-hand with the existing program. Jonathan Brocco, the Lead Mentor who has been with the program since 2009, is in the process of writing the constitution and the bylaws. Past mentors expressed interest in an organization like this, which led Brocco to begin researching the process with the UTC Student Government Association.

The PAWS student organization would help provide new leadership opportunities for mentors, as well as help to recruit new mentors.

“This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far and has been for many other people. It’s really become a part of the community. We’ve gotten calls from all over the county looking for us to expand to more schools,” says Brocco.

While PAWS continues to benefit participants from Brown Academy, the future of PAWS is to expand to more elementary schools and to create a greater impact of postsecondary awareness. There’s no money, federal or state, allocated to this age group for this kind of program. PAWS is researching options to market the curriculum to others looking to initiate this type of program. “We’re trying to be a self-sufficient program,” says Cole.

For more information about PAWS, please see http://www.utc.edu/center-community-career-education/paws/  New student mentors are recruited for PAWS every semester.

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