Without funds, UMN program that helps underserved kids could suffer

The program’s $527,892 grant will run out this summer.

University of Minnesota mentor Zainab Mohamed works on algebra homework with a group of high school students on April 5, 2017 at the University's Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center in Minneapolis.

Easton Green

University of Minnesota mentor Zainab Mohamed works on algebra homework with a group of high school students on April 5, 2017 at the University’s Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center in Minneapolis.

Rilyn Eischens

program that tutors students from underserved communities is looking for funding before its grant runs out at the end of the summer.

Prepare2Nspire connects middle and high school students with University undergraduate mentors. The 4-year-old program has been funded through the Great Lakes College Ready grant. Its most recent grant of $527,892 throughout 2015-2017, expires at the end of August. Program director and University associate professor Lesa Clarkson said she is seeking additional resources so the program won’t be shut down.

“When you’re providing a service in the community and the community is recognizing the program and looking for the program, it’s a disservice not to be there,” Clarkson said. “I’m really trying to make sure we’re there again next year.”

The grant ensured the program could pay for things like graphing calculators and tutor stipends, she said. Without more funding, Clarkson said the program will be cut back significantly, though she said she wasn’t sure yet what the final structure could look like.

She said she’s filling out grant applications and seeking additional community support.

Through the program, 25 University undergraduates mentor about 75 high school students and 40 middle school students in math. The program is open to any student who can attend weekly meetings at the tutoring location in North Minneapolis.

Prepare2Nspire provides students bus passes to get to the weekly sessions and food at meetings.

Participating students’ ACT scores have increased, she said, and students tend to take more math classes in high school.

“I love to see students succeed with material they thought would be too difficult for them,” said Kyle Whipple, a graduate student staff member.

For example, this semester, Whipple tutored a student who wanted to drop his trigonometry class because he felt overwhelmed by the coursework. Whipple said he encouraged the student to keep trying, and he ended up with a B+ in the course.

Some high school students who participate in Prepare2Nspire end up attending the University and return to the program as mentors, Clarkson said.

“For them to be able to pass high enough to be accepted at the University of Minnesota and then want to pay it forward —that’s amazing,” she said.

First-year biology, society and environment major and undergraduate tutor Zainab Mohamed joined the program in 11th grade to help prepare for the ACT.

Mohamed said her score improved by six points after a few months in the program.

“I realized one of the things I really loved was when somebody didn’t understand a concept, and you explain it to them in several different ways, and they finally have that ‘A-ha, eureka’ moment,” Mohamed said. “That was really important to me.”

The program takes a holistic approach to learning, Clarkson said, which includes hosting a regular family night to celebrate students.

“We’re building trust in the community, and we’re learning from the community,” Clarkson said. “The community has a lot of buy-in to the program. We have parents that sit there and wait for their kids for three hours. This is a commitment on the family level.”

Mohamed said one of her favorite parts of the program is the way they wrap up each tutoring session.

“Before we leave,” she said, “we always say, ‘Math is hard, so is life. We accept the challenge.’”