The Back-to-Basics Summer Institute (B2B) at Texas Southern University (TSU) is a two-week summer program for selected high school students and teachers. The purpose of the Back-to-Basics Summer Institute is “College Readiness,” which is the combination of skills, knowledge, and habits of mind necessary to fully participate in college-level courses (courses at the 100 level and above) to completion.
The program began operating in Summer 2010 with approximately 40-50 high school students and 10 teachers. The program has since operated every summer, resulting in participation from over 200 high school students and approximately 30 teachers, representing over 20 Houston area high schools. Over the last four years of the program, students attend an average of 90% of the 10 program days. In addition, a generalized make up of the students attending include 10% entering grade 9; 20% entering grade 10; 40% entering grade 11; and 30% entering grade 12. Approximately 53% of the participants are females and 47% are males; 24% of the participants are African/African American, 24% Hispanic, and .04% Caucasian/White. The demographic breakdown of the teachers over the past four years is eight African American teachers, one Hispanic teacher, and one Indian teacher.
During the morning sessions, for both two weeks, TSU Graduate students teach SAT/ACT test-taking strategies to the students, while the teachers are participating in technology application sessions. During the afternoon sessions, a TSU faculty member continues the teaching of technology application to now include the students. Also during the afternoon sessions, the B2B Coordinator teaches literature to the students and teachers. The students and teachers then integrate their study of literature and technology application into their final digital storytelling projects, which are presented at the institute’s closing ceremony. Lastly, during the lunch hour, distinguished guest speakers, including TSU faculty, local artists, and community leaders, enrich the participants with their motivational speeches.
One of the unique aspects of the institute is that Houston area teachers select gifted and talented students from their schools to participate in the institute. It is the belief that it is important for teachers to nurture their students and for students to remain under their teachers’ tutelage during the institute and throughout the remainder of the next academic year. Back-to-Basics Summer Institute staff also remain in contact with the students through their completion of high school, with the aim of recruiting these students to Texas Southern University and putting into place retention strategies.
Program Implementation Results
The B2B was implemented successfully, and showed a high level of satisfaction from students, teachers, and parents. Students shared that as a result of the institute they are more focused on their goals and how to prepare for college. Teachers confirmed the students’ words by sharing that the institute provided students with the strategies, resources, support, and encouragement needed to prepare for college entry and college retention. Parents shared that they noticed that their child was more excited about learning, acquired skills to communicate more effectively, and most importantly got them excited about higher education/college life.
Summary of the Verbal and Critical Reading Program
The 2013 Back To Basics Summer Institute verbal and critical reading component consisted of two weeks of vocabulary and critical reading skill development for the SAT and ACT exams. Four days of instruction and the equivalent of one day of testing was devoted to each exam (which will be further referred to as “exam work week”). Daily vocabulary building exercises and instruction of critical reading techniques were introduced and practiced during this institute. The students employed the use of smartphone and tablet apps such as dictionary.com for the vocabulary building exercises. The students also viewed editorials from the New York Times newspaper to enhance their critical reading skills. Additionally, the SAT and ACT websites for students were viewed and sample questions were given as class participation exercises.
Summary of the Mathematics Program
The Math component of the 2013 Back to Basics Summer Institute consisted of two weeks of intensive math drills for the SAT and ACT exams. One week was devoted to each exam. Each week involved daily math problem drills that covered the exam subject area taught for that day. Students were given a pre-test before the week of drills and a post-test after a week of drills for each exam.
The SAT and ACT subject areas covered consisted primarily of key areas in algebra, geometry, and probabilityl, plus complex numbers and trigonometry on the ACT exam. Thus, the first week focused on algebra, geometry, and probability, while the second highlighted complex numbers and trigonometry.
Summary of the Technology Program
The objective of the technology program was to make teachers and students familiar with various technology tools that can make learning more entertaining and interactive. In the first week of the program, during the morning sessions, teachers were introduced to different software tools and innovative websites. The students were divided into groups and assigned a teacher mentor. As a group, they selected a literature piece that appealed to them the most.
During the two-week program, in the afternoon sessions, the student groups spent an hour further analyzing the literature and an hour in the computer lab visually presenting their analysis. The students used various software tools such as Windows Movie Maker and PhotoStory to create presentations using graphics, music and animation. The presentations were shown on the final day of the Back to Basics program to their peers, teachers, family and friends.
Over the course of the two-week program, teachers and students were taught how to utilize images and audio clips without violating any copyright laws. They were also introduced to free websites and software tools for digital storytelling. Teachers were also introduced to websites where they could develop lesson plans, access educational video clips to enhance classroom instruction and effectively use Microsoft Office tools, such as mail merging and creating macros to automate tasks.
The teachers were very enthusiastic in their feedback about the technology program. One of the teachers has already setup a personal website and a blog for his non-profit organization. They were already sharing the skills learned in the technology sessions with family and friends. The teachers were especially enthusiastic about implementing the technology tools learned in the upcoming academic year. The students were excited to learn about websites where they could download royalty-free high resolution images and background music. As a result, they were able to visualize their thoughts about the literature and communicate their ideas with their family and friends.
Group Final Presentations
We Wear the Mask
Summary of Teacher Professional Development
Teachers were provided professional development in the area of technology and English language arts. Additionally, teachers were present during the guest lectures and participated in the dramatic and performing arts as a teacher group. They facilitated a group of students each day of the seminar, reinforcing learning objectives that were shared during teacher professional development. Teachers guided students through the development of their technology projects and participated in the completion ceremony at the end of the program.
Students, teachers, and parents across the board were very enthusiastic about the institute, as evidenced by feedback provided during a survey. Students commented on the exceptional SAT/ACT prep as well as the exposure to the different computer applications. Most said they would return to the program next summer. Students were also asked - based on their Back to Basics experience – if they would consider attending Texas Southern University. Many said they would consider attending TSU, and several indicated that they had already begun the application process.
Teachers commented that the computer classes were outstanding, stating that they would incorporate what they had learned into their regular classes. Parents commented that they had seen significant positive changes in their child’s behavior as well as an increased interest in reading, math and higher education, in general.