UALR recently celebrated the success of nearly 100 students who completed two separate summer bridge academies named for Dr. Charles W. Donaldson, UALR’s recently retired vice chancellor of UALR’s Division of Educational, Student Services, and Student Life.
Students in the UALR Dr. Charles W. Donaldson Summer Bridge Academy made huge leaps over the summer, with a 97 percent passage rate on math scores, 90 percent passage rate on reading scores, and 100 percent passage rate on composition.
Fifty-eight high school graduates of the Pulaski County Special School District completed the new Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy, joining the 37 students enrolled in the Summer Bridge Academy. They all immersed themselves in an intensive three-week experience designed to mitigate the need for remediation.
The Summer Bridge Academy was launched in the summer of 2013 as a pilot program. The academy showed such promise that it provided the foundation for the Scholars Academy with PCSSD.
The Donaldson Scholars Academy was offered on the campuses of UALR and Philander Smith College and was funded through the PCSSD’s $10 million desegregation settlement secured by attorney John Walker, who represented the plaintiffs.
Walker spoke to a packed audience gathered at the Donaghey Student Center during closing ceremonies on Saturday, Aug. 2.
“I am in awe by what I see here,” he said. “You have demonstrated that challenges can be overcome. It is important you came … so you can determine who you are … and what contributions you can make.”
Why Test Scores Matter
The improved scores not only boost student morale, they will also help with the bottom line, since remediation translates to more tuition paid for courses not counted toward completion of a degree.
In fact, bypassing remedial courses because of the improved scores helped the students see about $55,000 in combined college tuition savings, according to Dr. Brad Patterson, interim vice provost for student affairs and dean of students at UALR.
In addition, all 58 of the Donaldson Scholars Academy students now plan on attending college at UALR or another school. Amber Smith, who directed both Summer Bridge and the UALR component of the Donaldson Scholars Academy, said this change in attitude was a significant achievement in itself.
“We witnessed the evolution of the students’ vision of themselves. They are now able to visualize themselves in college, whereas many did not have that kind of vision before,” she said. “There is a sense of hope for the future.”
The success of both programs depended on the dedicated, qualified staff of educators who knew their material and were given resources they needed to be effective, according to Smith.
Getting an Early Start
In the coming academic year, the program will expand its reach even further. Ninth graders in PCSSD schools will begin preparing for university life through a yearly program that will continue throughout the duration of their high school careers. The Donaldson Scholars Academy will be the bedrock for student college preparation with literacy engagement and mathematics enhancement.
Additionally, students will have the opportunity to begin thinking about career options, preparing for college entrance exams, and developing relationships with college faculty, hopefully sparking their interest in college.
UALR freshman Robert Gere, a home-schooled student, expressed his appreciation for the resources, friendships, and other opportunities provided by the funding sponsors, which included Bank of America, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, in addition to PCSSD.
“There is no one else to thank but you,” he said. “This program is top notch. Socially and academically, I am much more confident, and I have no doubt about my future success.”
Students enrolled in the Donaldson Scholars Academy will receive mentoring and support in college and are eligible for a $2,500 college scholarship renewable for four years.
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