Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Introducing SMART's Expanded College Access Programming

SMART is excited to roll out our fully comprehensive College Access Program (CAP) in September 2012. In order to achieve our goals of ensuring our Scholars are accepted into the four-year college of their choice, we will be working with all of our high school-aged students on a weekly basis. Throughout the CAP journey, SMART will provide our Scholars with the tools and confidence necessary to succeed in college, and develop the leadership skills and social consciousness to position them to become the next leaders of their communities and the world. This year's curriculum is greatly expanded, providing access to professional tutoring, and engaging our Scholars in community building events and workshops while each grade level works through a specific yearly focus:
  • Freshman curriculum focuses on exploration. Students work toward understanding who they are and where they want to go with their lives. 
  • Sophomores will focus on social justice and understanding the different systems in our society so that  they can identify career paths that fit their own passions. 
  • Juniors prepare for college through researching schools and participating in heavy standardized test preparation. They will complete a multi-week Service Learning CAPstone project in the spring while developing their leadership skills. 
  • Senior year is focused on college and scholarship application processes. All seniors will be required to apply to at least 12 colleges and 10 scholarships.
This year will be full of many firsts as the students build their CAP community. We are very excited to welcome them all back into the space as they walk on the path towards college!

Volunteer Profile: Dana Hall

"I am so happy that SMART exists, not only for the kids, but also because SMART has become a big part of my life as well."

Dana has been a SMART volunteer for three years, and is pictured here with Sonia, the student that she has been tutoring every week since she first became involved with the program. When they first started working together, Dana worried that she wasn't getting through to Sonia, and was convinced that Sonia wasn't thrilled about having a tutor; however, Dana pushed on, returning each week, and encouraging Sonia to challenge herself both socially and academically. A breakthrough came at the end of their first year of working together, when Sonia asked Dana for extra help in math. "She reached out to me--our time working together was making a difference, and she wanted more support. It was amazing!" 

In addition to the important tutoring work that Dana has taken on, she also assists with SMART fundraising through participation in the SMART Volunteer Board, and through personal pursuits. Together, Dana and her co-worker and fellow SMART volunteer, Liz Shapiro, started the Mensch of the Month calendar, now in its second year of production, and have been generously donating the calendars proceeds to SMART. 

In June, Sonia graduated from middle school, and will soon be starting her freshman year at San Francisco Waldorf School, where she will be attending on a full scholarship. Dana will continue to spend time with Sonia as a mentor, and will begin tutoring a new middle school-aged SMART Scholar this fall. Thank you Dana for all of your dedication to SMART, and for working to improve the academic outcomes for the Scholars we serve.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The SMART Summer Intern Experience

This summer, SMART was thrilled to host two of our high school-aged Scholars, George and Annie as interns. Here in their own words, a few reflections on their internship experiences....

Annie is a sophomore at Lowell High School. She graduated from San Francisco Friends School in 2011 and will graduate from high school in 2015.

"I have been a part of SMART for over four years now, but I had never really understood what really happened behind the scenes. After spending the entire summer at SMART and working closely with the staff, I quickly realized the tremendous amount of effort and energy needed to make SMART work. It was definitely surprising to see how complicated it is to operate a non-profit youth program!

My CAP internship at SMART marks the first time in my life I was given actual responsibility. Although I mainly did tiny tasks this summer, I developed and perfected numerous personal skills. This summer, my main responsibility was acting as the teaching assistant for the art class at the SMART summer program for fifth and sixth graders. In this type of working environment, I knew skills like critical thinking would be useless and forced myself into exercising skills like patience and leadership.

My social and communication abilities have also significantly improved (of course, in my opinion). For example, in the beginning of the internship, I was very reluctant to help Ana Maria make phone calls. However, like the saying “practice makes perfect,” I slowly found myself more and more comfortable communicating with others—not with just peers, but also with adults. Working at SMART was definitely a meaningful learning experience for me.

I do not feel that I had made a significant contribution to SMART/CAP considering the amount of work SMART staff does. My work generally revolved around supporting and helping out the staff in their work, like creating folders and labels for Melanie and supporting Ana Maria in the art class. So, my contribution to SMART/CAP was an indirect one.

My advice for future interns is to work hard and be comfortable with learning and making mistakes. Also, I promise you that the first phone call you make will be awkward."

George is a current junior at University High School. He graduated from Cathedral School for Boys in 2010 and will graduate from high school in 2014.

"By interning here at SMART, I was really able to develop and sharpen general life skills. One of the larger tasks I had this summer was to organize, and more importantly, promote the social events that SMART was hosting. After organizing multiple events, I now have a greater understanding of the steps that need to be taken to create a successful social event--whether reaching out to people a week or two in advance, or constantly reminding people of upcoming events--these are necessary measures for a successful event. I say successful because there was an event I organized this summer in which nobody showed up. That was a disappointment, but I learned after that, and our more recent events have had a better turn out. Having the opportunity to develop my leadership and organizational skills was a huge benefit because now I have a greater ability to take on large projects and efficiently complete them.

As I am only a student, I think that my contribution to SMART and CAP was limited. However, I was able to offer my insight on CAP's development. Since CAP is a new addition to SMART, the knowledge of students is crucial to creating a program that will maximize its benefits towards the students and their families. This was why I decided to create and form a Student Board at CAP. This Board is close to complete, and will be starting up this school year. Through this Board, students will be able to voice their opinions about CAP and propose any ideas or activities for SMART to host.

If there was one thing I took away about the operation of a non-profit organization, it is probably that the budget can be tight. Buying supplies or covering costs for student activities means that the budget has to always be referred to.

I want to thank the SMART staff for giving me the opportunity to work with them and taking the time to teach me new things."

IMAP: Preparing SMART's Middle School Scholars for Success

The Independent Middle School Achievement Program (IMAP) ramps up September 10th with 56 scholars participating twice a week. We are excited to continue to support our scholars to ensure they are thriving academically and socially, as well as keeping an eye on the prize: college! 

The newly developed IMAP curriculum is based on research on youth development, gold standard educational non-profits, and overall, what our own SMART families said they needed! We will be zeroing in on a myriad of 21st century skills that are important to both academic and personal success, such as teamwork, time management, and learning how to be flexible and adapt to new or stressful environments.

SMART scholars will have the opportunity to practice their public speaking and researching skills as they will have engaging and interactive research projects, and also get to learn more about the city and communities that surround them. In addition, our eighteen 8th graders will be preparing for their final year of middle school, and focus on SSAT prep, applying for independent high schools, and also discuss the transition into high school. We are eager to begin a productive and meaningful year full of community, growth, and learning!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SMART goes to... Olympics?

In the spirit of celebrating athleticism, we wanted to showcase two of our incredible Scholars, Dinh and Kinsley, with their ice skating and ballroom dancing skills (respectively).

SMART goes to... Olympics?