Increasing an SAT score may sound like a small step on the long path to college, but it’s a step away from poverty for many inner city students, believes psychology major Alexa Pazniokas ’12. And in neighborhoods like Bridgeport, Conn., where only 19% of the adult population (25+) have a college degree, hope counts.
Pazniokas is Co-Site Director of Fairfield’s campus chapter of Let’s Get Ready (LGR), a nationwide network of college students mentoring under-served high school students looking to apply to college. The site school is Central High School in Bridgeport, with an enrollment of 413 seniors – 30 of whom have been selected for the LGR program.
“I was fortunate enough to have support from my parents during my college application process,” says Pazniokas, “but the majority of these students are first generation applicants and are navigating the system largely on their own.” In addition to free SAT assistance, the trained college coaches guide the high school seniors through essay preparation and overall application processing, as well as serving as relevant role models and mentors.
A Need for Volunteers
Since Fall 2008, about 30 regularly participating Central High School students and a dozen Fairfield University students have been engaged in the program. With a necessary 5:1 ratio of coaches to participants, this level of volunteers needs to be maintained for rotational purposes. The LGR program is held twice a week at Central High, with each session lasting three hours, plus an additional hour required of each coach for prep work. “It’s a huge time commitment so a larger core of volunteers would be amazing,” says Pazniokas.
Many college students are intimidated when they hear about teaching the SAT, notes Pazniokas, but they need not be. Student leaders are trained by the Let’s Get Ready staff from the Boston office and are well prepared for the classroom situation.
The Fairfield Experience
Fairfield University’s Jesuit mission of developing “men and women for others” resonates strongly with Pazniokas, as it’s “something that I have believed in throughout my life,” she says. “Even in high school before I knew I wanted to be a psychology major, I was always interested in working with and helping people as much as I could.”
Pazniokas chose to major in psychology because professionally she’d like to continue on her path of helping others, with a special interest in mentally disabled or autistic children. She has since been inspired by her academic advisor, Dr. Judy Primavera, who has taught two of her psychology courses. “What she’s done with her life has helped me think about what I would like to do with mine,” says Pazniokas.
One of the courses Pazniokas took with Dr. Primavera was Developmental Psychology, a service learning course that involved volunteering in the Head Start programs in Bridgeport. “Professor Primavera has been able to be both a dedicated mother and a clinical psychologist at the same time. Her classes are enriched by her willingness to share her personal experiences,” says Pazniokas, who plans to take another of Dr. Primavera’s classes in Spring 2010.
Tutoring as a Way of Life
No stranger to the role of mentor, Pazniokas has been tutoring students for 7 years. In middle school, she tutored elementary school children in an after-school program; in high school, she volunteered at a homework center in an inner city. The latter experience was very rewarding, she says, as “these kids really needed us.”
When Pazniokas first heard about Let’s Get Ready at the Community Service Fair on Fairfield’s campus during her freshman year, she was ready to sign up as a volunteer but then applied for the assistant director position as soon as it became available. “I was interested in this specific program because I wanted to make a measurable difference in a student’s life during an extremely important time for them,” Pazniokas shares. Plus, with her tutoring experience, she knew it was a position right up her alley.
As co-director of Fairfield’s program this year with Catherine Flatley ’12, a marketing major, Pazniokas and Flatley are responsible for recruiting high school seniors to participate and college students to volunteer their time as coaches. Each semester, their goal is to retain the students and assist coaches with any help needed. In addition, the national organization needs data and statistics that support the success of the program for funding purposes, so there’s a lot of clerical work for the leadership pair such as grading SAT practice tests.
The results for Fairfield’s chapter? In Fall 2008, the median increase in SAT scores of the Central High School participants between Diagnostic Test #1 and the actual October SAT was 120 points. Now that’s a measurable difference!
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