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UHV students help middle schoolers (w/ video)

By Carolina Astrain
May 5, 2014 at 12:05 a.m.

University of Houston-Victoria junior Gracie Ordonez, 22, of Victoria, helps students Richard Gonzalez,  left, and Javier Del Angel,  right, with math problems during an after-school, power-hour period hosted by Communities In Schools  and the Boys and Girls Club at Stroman Middle School in Victoria.

University of Houston-Victoria junior Gracie Ordonez counted from one to seven with her finger gliding over a line graph.

"You need to figure out how to find the X and Y coordinates," Ordonez, 22, said to the two Stroman Middle School students. "Because if not, you're not going to be able to do it."

The university student was at the middle school tutoring students as part of a new federal work-study partnership between UHV, the Victoria school district, the Boys and Girls' Club of Victoria and Communities in Schools.

Federal work-study provides eligible students a form of income and experience to help build their resumes.

Richard Gonzalez, a Stroman Middle School seventh-grader, pushed the bridge of his glasses closer to his face as he leaned in closer to study the graphing problem.

"Now, I understand it a whole lot more," Richard said.

His tutoring partner, Javier Del Angel, furrowed his brow for a moment, examining the worksheet.

They both had three weeks left before taking their State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams, and the tutoring program offered by Communities in Schools was an ideal place to prepare, Richard said.

"Javier told me about this program," Richard said.

A few months ago, Javier was visited by Communities in Schools Site Coordinator Espiridion "Speedy" Castillo.

"I had stopped going to school," Javier said. "I was failing some of my classes and didn't want to come back."

After the home visit, Javier said he decided to return.

"I like being in here; it's better than being in a crowded classroom," Javier said. "There's more one-on-one attention."

This year, Castillo said he's done as many as 60 home visits, and the tutoring power hour at the Communities in Schools classroom sees an average of 63 students a day.

"The power hour was a Boys and Girls Club initiative to begin with," Castillo said.

Students who behave well in class are given hall passes to the tutoring room as an incentive, Castillo said.

University of Houston-Victoria Career Specialist Amy Hatmaker said of the 33 work-study students they have this semester, 11 work off campus.

"We have partnerships with several nonprofit organizations," Hatmaker said. "Federal law requires us to use a certain percentage of our money for off-campus employment because they encourage us to spread the wealth."

Hatmaker said when the university first expanded in 2010 by offering courses to freshmen and sophomores, there weren't enough university jobs for students eligible for work-study.

"By getting hired as real-world workers, it's a good experience for all of them," Hatmaker said.

The university keeps track of student time sheets, which are verified by campus employers, Hatmaker said.

"Work-study also definitely improves student retention," she said. "There's no doubt about it."

Eight UHV students are working at the Boys and Girls' Club of Victoria this semester, Hatmaker said.

The program is run by Castillo and one other Communities in Schools employee - making the extra help from UHV work-study students a valued part of the classroom.

"It's really helped us out a lot," Castillo said. "They've been able to help our students with goal-setting."

Ordonez, a Brownsville native, said she wants to teach Spanish some day.

When she first started the tutoring program in January, Ordonez said she was surprised to learn several of the middle school students did not know some of their basic math skills.

"I didn't know teens had these sorts of problems," Ordonez said. "It's amazing that we can help make a difference in their lives this way."



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