Project Promise Part 3: “It gave me the confidence I needed to pursue higher education…”

By Catelia Vazquez

(This is part three of a three part series about “Project Promise” a Baylor School of Education initiative funded by a grant from the City of Waco. The program provides summer enrichment opportunities for gifted students in grades 4-12 who come from low-income households. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.)

I was a Project Promise student at the University for Young People every June from 2001 until 2008, and I absolutely loved it. It was always the most anticipated event of my summer vacation. What kind of kid was excited about “going to school” while on break from school? The gifted and talented kind. I was identified as a gifted and talented student early on in elementary school, and at the end of my fourth grade year my mom heard from word of mouth about a summer camp for students like myself. Luckily, I was granted a Project Promise scholarship from the City of Waco that year, and thus began my Project Promise experience.

As a Project Promise student I took a wide variety of classes over the years: calligraphy, cooking, Swahili, French, weaving, painting, The Real Game of Life, debate, chess, forensic science, poetry/creative writing, theatre, and logic just to list a few. I was assigned a counselor (now known as mentors) and a group each year. My counselors played a vital role in my Project Promise experience. My counselors were people I could have open conversations with regarding everything from family life to my hopes and dreams for the future. They helped me to sort through my thoughts and actively think about how to go about obtaining a college education.

UYPBeing with the other Project Promise students in classes, during free time, and everything in between was also an important component of my success at Project Promise. I was surrounded by like-minded students, and for the most part we shared the same goal: be the first in our family to go to college. I made lasting relationships to this day with a few of my counselors, and several Project Promise students.

After my senior year summer at Project Promise, I returned to the program in the spring of my freshman year at Baylor as an office student worker. I had a strong desire to continue to be a part of this program that had helped me tremendously. Had it not been for Project Promise I may have never ended up at Baylor. Project Promise made Baylor a realizable goal for me. Project Promise allowed me to feel very comfortable on Baylor’s campus, to the point where there was no question in my mind as to where I was meant to go after high school. Although I loved my time spent at Project Promise as a student, my four years as a student worker there gave me an even deeper appreciation for the program. Seeing the gratitude of the families new to the program, and being an example of the success of the program to the students really reminded me of how lucky and grateful I was to have been a part of it.

Now that I have completed my Bachelor’s degree, I look back on my time at Baylor, and as a Project Promise student, and am appreciative of the opportunity given to me by the City of Waco to have attended Project Promise for as long as I did. I truly believe that my Project Promise experience gave me the confidence I needed to pursue a higher education. While working for Project Promise, I realized that I enjoyed interacting with the families, and doing my best to assist them however I could which played a huge role in me switching my major from pre-accounting to child and family studies. I hope to someday contribute to Waco, in any way possible, and Waco’s residents in the same impactful way that Project Promise did for me. I believe that if more students were exposed to a college campus in the way that I was on a regular basis, the possibility of obtaining a college education would not seem so impossible. My hope for Project Promise would be that the program could reach more students and allow them the opportunity to grow up at Baylor just as I did.

IMG_9004This Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Catelia Vazquez. Catelia is the Executive Administrative Assistant of Secondary Education for Waco ISD. She received her degree in Child and Family Studies from Baylor University. Catelia is currently enjoying newlywed life with her husband Eduardo.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Project Promise Part 1: Making Progress in the Summertime

(This is part one of a three part series about “Project Promise” a Baylor School of Education initiative funded by a grant from the City of Waco. The program provides summer enrichment opportunities for gifted students in grades 4-12 who come from low-income households.)

By Dr. Mary Witte, senior lecturer, Baylor School of Education

Can low-income gifted students benefit from a summer enrichment program? Recent research from Baylor School of Education says “yes!”

ActLocally-StopActionMovieMakingI had an inkling that former participants in our Baylor School of Education (SOE) summer enrichment program were doing well, because I keep in touch with several of them. When a survey confirmed my assumptions, I felt overwhelmed and proud, but I can’t say that I was surprised. I had heard too many anecdotes about the students’ successes. I’ve always said they are the best kids in the world. They really are amazing. They just needed a hand to guide them — not to pull them or push them.

I am the director of University for Young People (UYP), a program for gifted students. For more than 30 years, Baylor has hosted UYP, and Wacoans have paid to send their children for valuable enrichment. Baylor UYP runs for three weeks each June on the Baylor campus, and our 180 students may choose from dozens of courses, taking one in the morning and one in the afternoon. An all-day option provides lunch and a recreational time between the two class sessions.

Since 1999, low-income students in grades 4-12 have been able to attend UYP also. Project Promise students, about 60 of them, are a subset of UYP gifted students, who also meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) federal low-income eligibility requirements. Tuition for these students is funded through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to the City of Waco from HUD.

ActLocally-GeometryInActionThe goals of Project Promise are to develop students to aspire to higher education and to identify their strengths and interests. Most Project Promise participants attend UYP several summers in a row, beginning in 4th grade and through high school.

The survey of Project Promise participants, conducted by Baylor School of Education master’s student Corina Kaul, showed that of the 89 who responded, 100 percent graduated from high school. Almost all of those surveyed had either enrolled (81 percent) or planned to enroll (9 percent) in higher education in 2014. At the time of the survey, two former Project Promise students had earned graduate degrees. And I know two others since then — one graduated from Baylor with a master’s degree, and another earned a graduate degree in architecture from Yale.

Former students said that being part of Project Promise led them to choose more challenging courses in high school, prepared them for college, and influenced their decision to attend college. And that is definitely one of the program’s goals — to suggest the idea of college to these students at an early age.

ActLocally-MuralPaintingOne student said in the survey, “It definitely opened me up to the idea of attending a university at a very early age, which caused me to work harder toward one day going to college. I can definitely say that I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for [Project Promise.]”

The fact that the program is on Baylor’s campus makes a difference, I believe. The first big step is just coming onto a college campus. For Waco students to come to Baylor and for their parents to be invited to campus for meetings and celebrations… it makes a difference. They are comfortable now on Baylor’s campus.

The survey also found that a lot of Project Promise graduates stay in Waco, making their hometown a better place for future generations. Through this unique collaboration, Baylor and the City of Waco are working together to improve Waco — one child at a time.

Mary WitteThis Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Dr. Mary Witte. Dr. Witte is a senior lecturer in the Baylor School of Education and director of the SOE’s Center for Community Learning and Enrichment, which sponsors University for Young People enrichment program.  In addition to Kaul and Witte, co-authors of the Gifted Child Today article are Dr. Susan Johnsen, professor of educational psychology, and Dr. Terrill Saxon, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology in Baylor SOE. You can see the full research article here: Project Promise Research.  

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Project Promise Part 2: From UYP Participant to Baylor Student

(This is part two of a three part series about “Project Promise” a Baylor School of Education initiative funded by a grant from the City of Waco. The program provides summer enrichment opportunities for gifted students in grades 4-12 who come from low-income households. Click here to read Part 1.)

By Kianna Ford

As a teenager, I remember pacing around the living room with my brother waiting for the squeaky, golden bus to pick us up for the first day of University for Young People. As we approached the Baylor campus, my heart grew increasingly more excited. I couldn’t wait to step off the bus and be greeted by the Project Promise mentors.

University for Young People, “UYP” for short, is a summer enrichment program for gifted students, grades 4-12, from Waco and the surrounding area. Students who participate in UYP get to come to Baylor campus and take special classes for young people. There are dozens to choose from. You can take one in the morning and one in the afternoon. “Project Promise” is an initiative funded through the City of Waco by a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). This program helps gifted students from low-income households participate in UYP.

In my first year, I will admit, I took the camp for granted. I thought about it as just another summer camp, something to force me out of the house for the summer. Each summer after my first year, however, I found myself scrambling through the mail for the course catalog. The last day of my final year at UYP hit me hard. I was very emotional that day and I cried a lot. In that moment, I knew that UYP was much more than just a summer camp.

Now, as a Baylor student, my job is serving as the office manager for the Center for Community Learning and Enrichment; that’s the office at Baylor that runs UYP and Project Promise. The first day of UYP is a little different for me now. I walk into my office answering parents’ questions, preparing roll sheets, and helping the mentors prepare for the moment the students step off of the bus just like I did. Behind the scenes of UYP is a tough job, but it is very fulfilling to see the students have the same opportunity I had. It also feels good to step back on the last day as the final bus rolls out and know that I contributed to something that will change their lives.

UYP was great because it helped me discover my interests and strengths. My first year, I took a poetry class and one of my poems was published in a book. I had no idea that I had a gift for writing. I continued to write throughout my years in school, perfecting my craft. Now I am journalism student at Baylor. I will use the skill I discovered in UYP in my career.

Project Promise gives under-privileged students an extra boost of confidence they often times need. It is hard to believe you will be successful when there are so many socioeconomic factors holding you back. When others tell low-income kids they can’t, Project Promise reassures them that they can.

I am very proud to say I was a Project Promise student. It gave me a great foundation to sprout into the scholar I am today. I hope that my role as office manager, student, and former attendee will encourage at least one child to continue her (or his) education, and will encourage her to give back to people who contributed to her success.

kianna FordKianna Ford is a former University for Young People and Project Promise student. She is a Waco native and is now a Junior at Baylor University majoring in Journalism with a Public Relations Concentration. She has worked as the office manager for UYP for two summers.