Non-Profit Offers Support Programs at Local Jr High Schools to Address Equity Issues

Non-Profit Offers Support Programs at Local Jr High Schools to Address Equity Issues title=
Vicki Ben-Yaacov (from left) and volunteers Liam Dow and Gabriela Villalpando Torres, both are Ph.D. students from Biomolecular Science and Engineering at UCSB.
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Source: Youth Innovation Club

Youth Innovation Club, a Santa Barbara based 503(c) non-profit organization, has recently launched several programs to provide support for junior high school students in the Santa Barbara area – High Impact Tutoring Program, College Buddies Program, and Science Project Advising Program. Founded in 2019 by Vicki Ben-Yaacov, a board member at the Goleta Union School District, Youth Innovation Club’s mission is to connect scientists, engineers, artists, and innovators with educators to bring hands-on curriculum to elementary and middle school students in the Santa Barbara area. In response to the widening of the existing academic achievement differences between middle-class and low-income students brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning, Youth Innovation Club collaborated with Goleta Valley Junior High School during the 2020 school year and contributed over 500 hours of online tutoring for students who were struggling with science and math. 

Starting October 2021, Youth Innovation Club launched the in-person High Impact Tutoring Program at Goleta Valley Junior High School, which targets students who are struggling in science or math and who may not have the resources from home to support them. Currently, the program has placed tutors in five different classes at GVJH. All tutors are volunteers with strong science backgrounds and are passionate about helping the younger generation, and many are currently studying at UCSB. Each GVJH student participant receives weekly support from the same tutor, which allows them to build bonds. Some tutors work one-on-one with students and some guide group discussions, depending on the support the students need.  All activities are carried out under the supervision and guidance of the classroom teachers. 

“We customize the tutoring format based on teachers’ requests. We place 3 to 6 tutors in different classes depending on the needs, but they are all based on the same principles – engage, encourage, and empower,” explains Ben-Yaacov. “Working with adolescent students can be challenging, especially the ones that are not feeling successful. While our programs focus on academic growth, particularly in math and science, we believe that the most important thing is to ensure that the students can and are willing to engage with the tutors. We work with teachers to design activities that help to build the bonding experience, so that students can open up to the tutors and receive help. This is really a mentorship program, because what we offer is not just homework help, we also want to help students develop the skills to advocate for themselves.” 

To date, feedback from students, teachers, and administrators has been universally positive. Clanci Chiu Merritt, the principal of Goleta Valley Junior High School, remarked “Research supports small group tutoring as a high impact intervention for the current situation in education where the needs for students is greater than in prior years both in academics and social/emotional areas.  The mentor/tutor support provided by Youth Innovation Club at GV is showing to meet both of those areas.  The consistent 1 - 1 or small group connection with a UCSB student that started in early October has already shown to have a positive impact on some of our students with the highest needs.”

Asked how they felt about their tutoring experience, here were some of their comments:
“I felt like my tutor and I had a good connection and that I could trust him.”
“My tutor was cool and could help me with science, even my mom can’t do that!”
“I was able to complete one of my goals with my tutor.”

Many of the volunteers are motivated by their own personal life experiences. “As a first-generation college student of low-income background, I first would like to say thank you very much for this wonderful program focused on high-impact tutoring of disadvantaged kids, and thank you for offering me the opportunity to contribute to Youth Innovation Club's efforts,” remarked Sammy Umezawa, a volunteer tutor who is currently a third-year UCSB student.
Youth Innovation Club is also currently piloting the “College Buddies Program” at Santa Barbara Junior High school. College Buddies is an intervention program that focuses on both social skills and academic skills. This program is a collaboration with UCSB GGSE Professor Diana Arya and SBJH science teacher Marilyn Garza. As part of this program, a group of volunteers from UCSB are working alongside a group of 8th graders during their science class. The college buddies have many hats to wear - mentors, role models, coaches, and community builders. 

“After a year of online school, some students need to re-learn how to be students in the classroom,” said Ms. Garza. “We want the College Buddies to model for our students how to engage with the material presented, how to ask questions, and how to help each other. The mentoring will address not only academic skills, but also social skills. Through meaningful interactions with their College Buddies, our students will practice conversation skills, see education through a different perspective, and benefit from the encouragement and individualized help that the College Buddies bring.”

The third program that Youth Innovation Club is currently offering is the Science Project Advising Program. This program brings in experts from different STEM fields to work with students who are participating in the Santa Barbara Science Fair. Students who choose to work on Science Fair Projects at three local junior high schools, Goleta Valley, La Colina, and Santa Barbara Junior High, work under the guidance of scientists or engineers to brainstorm their science project ideas, receive feedback about their experiments and data analysis, and practice their presentations and Q&A sessions before entering the Science Fair.

“I was a judge in the Science Fair once, and I found that most students that excel in these types of programs are self-motivators, but they also have a lot of resources to support them. They usually have someone in their lives who can mentor them with their projects. This is an equity issue,” said Ben-Yaacov. “We want to make sure that these resources are accessible for all students on campus, so that every student has the opportunity to work on a science project they are passionate about, under the guidance of an expert”.

Every volunteer from Youth Innovation Club completes a Live Scan and TB test through Santa Barbara Partners in Education, a local nonprofit administered by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, which screens and places volunteers on behalf of schools, along with other programs and services. “We are very grateful for our partnership with Partners in Education,” said Ben-Yaacov, “Without their support, this would not be possible.” 
Asked about what she envisions for the nonprofit’s future direction, Ben-Yaacov said, “We would like to scale our effort so that we can help more students, and that means collaboration with the Santa Barbara Unified School District. As you can see, we don’t just bring a program to schools, we collaborate with every teacher we work with to integrate the program into their classrooms.”

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