Independent audit shows success of UrbanFUTURE
By Kenya Vaughn
St. Louis American
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
With the systematic ills of the St. Louis Public Schools often in the news, an after-school program in the district has been defying the depressing statistics and empowering students to regain control of their academic careers.
“If we could get a centralized push, we could correct this thing,” said Frank Van Bree, president of UrbanFUTURE, a not-for-profit corporation that sponsors social outreach programs for St. Louis urban youth.
That “thing” that could be corrected is the achievement gaps among at-risk youth in the inner city.
UrbanFUTURE has teamed with Fanning Middle School for the INSPIRE One by One program, a collaboration between parent, mentor, teacher and student. For the past six years, UrbanFUTURE has made the difference for more than 200 students at Fanning, who on average have achieved a GPA twice that of their peers.
An independent audit performed by Saint Louis University researcher Steve Wernet illustrated the success of the program. It showed that students enrolled in the UrbanFUTURE One by One INSPIRE Program as sixth graders enter the program reading at a second-grade reading level, which is the mean for SLPS. But it only takes one school year in the program to catapult them as high as three grade levels higher. Within two years, INSPIRE students reach a seventh-grade reading level at the completion of their seventh-grade year.
Although UrbanFuture and INSPIRE mostly deal with academics, staff and administrators realize there is more to success than GPA and literacy. Their programs are designed for adolescents to improve their academic achievement and personal character through interaction with volunteer mentors.
“Individual Dignity, Academic Achievement, Character Development and Family Commitment” are the stated primary goals of the program. “Parents come to me and say, ‘Thank you for helping my child focus - to see something beyond the regular school day and something beyond school,’” Van Bree said.
“We see a change in behavior, and they also acquire goal-setting skills,” McKay said. “Each child has personal dignity, and part of the goal of our organization is to restore that.”
McKay said that the INSPIRE team model involves parents, mentors and students working together to support the needs of the student and prepare them to enter high school.
“It’s a safe haven for kids after school,” McKay said, “a place where they can work on academics and character while having a good time. It gives them a sense of belonging.”
“Reports show that a student involved in an after-school program three times a week or more does better in school, has less behavioral problems and higher attendance,” Van Bree said.
“If you are a consistent presence and you show the kids that we care about them and have a consistent expectation, it’s amazing how kids and parents will respond.”
As far as the future of UrbanFUTURE, the leaders are looking to expand at more schools within the district and create a career center for high school students.
“We want to help the parents be the leaders that they want and need to be,” Van Bree said, “and to take ownership of the critical success path of their child.”
For more information about UrbanFUTURE, call (314) 776-3434 or visit www.urbanfuturestl.org.