| By Rolando Garcia
Natural Sciences and Mathematics Communications
The University of Houston boasts cutting-edge research and lots of bright, high-achieving students. But just blocks away from a campus bustling with world-class scholarship is a high school where too many dropout and too few go to college.
The proximity of one of the state’s leading institutions of higher learning to Jack Yates High School – a struggling school located in one of Houston’s toughest neighborhoods – is more than irony. It also was – at least to one NSM student – an opportunity for UH to make a difference in its own backyard.
Now, through the tutoring program founded by Kamran Ahmed, a 2008 biochemistry graduate, dozens of UH students volunteer to provide one-on-one help in math, science, English and social studies to struggling Yates students.
The idea for the Achieve program was born in June 2006 after Ahmed read a newspaper article about Houston schools with low test scores and graduation rates. Yates was among them – although it since has improved its rating by the Texas Education Agency to academically acceptable.
Ahmed, an officer with a UH organization that connects students with community service projects, went to meet the principal of Yates to find out how UH students could help.
“I was surprised, with Yates being so close to the city’s major education center, that there wasn’t already some connection with UH,” Ahmed said. “The (Yates) staff really wanted us to get involved.”
Ahmed’s initiative coincided with the beginning of a separate tutoring program at Yates run by the UH department of mathematics, which was also a response to Yates’ low scores that year.
The Yates principal was eager to have UH volunteers at the school and suggested they could help tutor students struggling to pass the TAKS test.
So Ahmed and other volunteers he recruited started holding daily afternoon tutoring sessions in the Yates library. The tutors provided one-on-one help for algebra problems, chemistry homework and other subjects.
The program has drawn volunteers from a variety of majors, so a math student can help with a geometry question, or a liberal arts major can help with writing and English, Ahmed said.
“It’s important to establish a relationship with the students you’re tutoring, and then just try to explain things in ways they can understand,” Ahmed said. “Hopefully we can inspire students and provide a good example.”
In a tough, impoverished neighborhood like Houston’s Third Ward, it helps for Yates students to have college-age mentors who can stress the importance of higher education, Ahmed said.
There are now about 30 volunteers in the program. In addition to tutoring, UH volunteers also help at the Yates counseling center, where they help students fill out college applications and financial aid forms.
In the spring, Achieve volunteers held a college enrollment day, a motivational event for Yates seniors. They helped students with college applications and financial aid forms and a $500 scholarship was awarded to a deserving Yates senior through a project grant received by Ahmed.
Ahmed, who graduated in May summa cum laude, was also an NSM ambassador and helped recruit top-notch high school students to the college. The learning that goes on outside the classroom is a crucial part of the UH experience, Ahmed said.
“UH has provided every opportunity to get involved in research and community service,” Ahmed said.
He has been accepted to Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn.
The Achieve program will continue as part of UH’s Metropolitan Volunteer Program.