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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Evaluation: URI SMILE program doubles rate of college entrance among participating high school students

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Science, math mentoring program issues evaluation of first 10 years

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 8, 2006 -- An independent evaluation of a mentoring program for minority and educationally disadvantaged middle and high school students has found that the University of Rhode Island program has more than doubled the rate at which the students attend college.

URI’s Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) Program issued the evaluation of its first 10 years at an event today attended by Gov. Donald Carcieri and URI President Robert L. Carothers.

Chief among the report’s findings was that 93 percent of the students who graduate from the SMILE Program attended college, compared to an overall college enrollment rate of 40 percent in the four participating communities. In addition, more than half of the participating students (57 percent) maintained an average grade of B or better.

“In this information age when a college degree is a necessary stepping stone to success and a well-paying job, the success the SMILE Program has had at encouraging and preparing students to attend college is perhaps its most important outcome,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “The fact that some SMILE students have gone on to major in challenging math and science disciplines and attend prominent schools like Amherst, Smith, Brown, Rensselaer Polytech and URI is all the more satisfying.”

“I'm delighted to celebrate the anniversary of the SMILE program, whose achievement has inspired more Rhode Island students to successfully complete high school and enroll in college through hands-on science and math experiences," Governor Donald L. Carcieri said. "The SMILE program demonstrates that focusing on the disciplines of math and science can help steer high school students on a path to success."

Founded in 1994, the SMILE Program serves about 250 students each year at 13 schools in Central Falls, South Kingstown, West Warwick and Woonsocket. Using 24 teacher-mentors, the program offers year-round programming focused on hands-on math and science activities, mentoring and college and career awareness.

“We’re very pleased and heartened by the outcome of the evaluation,” said Carol Englander, director of the program and a teacher at South Kingstown High School. “It conclusively demonstrates that the efforts of our teacher-mentors and partners in the community have been highly successful at raising student grades, nurturing their interest in science and math, boosting their self-confidence, and encouraging them to pursue higher education.”

The evaluation, conducted in 2005 by Alan Brickman & Associates of Gloucester, Mass., was designed to document the impact of the program and generate recommendations for improvement. It was funded in large part by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropy in New England devoted exclusively to education.

The report cited that the SMILE Program’s “climate of academic rigor and high expectations, the engaging and hands-on approach, and the requirement that students maintain their grades as a condition of eligibility all play a role in generating positive outcomes, as do the variety of after-school activities, challenge weekends, and campus and workplace field trips.”

The report also concluded that “SMILE fosters the early development of student interest in and enthusiasm for science and math,” and it “provides students with an academically challenging and socially supportive community of learning where they can picture themselves and their futures in new and exciting ways, improve their self-confidence, and prepare themselves academically for college.” The program also benefits URI by engaging faculty and students in outreach activities aligned with diversity goals, community service objectives, and experiential learning requirements.

"Working with SMILE has encouraged me to change my URI courses from traditional lectures to more hands-on and experiential learning formats,” said Josef Gorres, URI associate research professor and a faculty advisor to the program. “As the Chinese proverb says: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

Most of the report’s recommendations reflect a strong interest in expanding the program, including extending SMILE Club hours, establishing more clubs within each school, expanding the program to more schools, increasing professional development opportunities for teachers, and creation of a full-time SMILE coordinator position. All of these recommendations would require additional funding.