Twenty-two chosen Spring Branch ISD middle school students attended a six-week, mathematics-based academic enrichment program at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) earlier this summer.
The program, called Houston Prep, identifies high-achieving young teenagers with an interest in science, technology, engineering and other mathematics-based disciplines, often referred to as STEM. One of the program’s main goals is to also increase the likelihood that these students, most of whom are minorities, will pursue careers in these important fields.
Since it began in 1989, Houston Prep has enrolled about 3,000 students. Follow-up surveys of program participants found 99.9 percent of the students had graduated from high school, 99 percent were enrolled as college students, and about half were majoring in high-need STEM disciplines.
SBISD students selected for this year’s Houston Prep program attended Landrum and Northbrook middle schools and Westchester Academy for International Studies. Students attended classes at UHD from June 11 through July 20. Students from underserved groups, including young women, are encouraged to apply.
At UHD, students in the four-year Houston Prep program were introduced to academics ranging from first-year engineering, logic and problem solving classes. After four years, students can earn up to six credits in dual high school and college computer science and psychology. The classes are taught by college professors, scientists, engineers, mathematicians and high school teachers.
In addition to classroom work, field trips are taken to NASA and the Museum of Natural Science. An Engineering Day with corporate presenters and special guests was also held.
Students learn by doing at Houston Prep. At Engineering Day this year, for example, Landrum Middle School eighth-graders Francisco Giron and Jesus Perez joined other students in designing, planning, building and then weight load testing a bridge built out of linguini noodles.
“I think this is an awesome program. We do such awesome things in our engineering classes,” Jesus said. He’s interested in “building things,” as well as soccer. “This program teaches you how to do college type things vs. spending summer just watching TV.”
Said Francisco, “I like engineering, and I’m good working with computers. This program has helped me learn more about engineering and how to grow up and be an engineer.”
Robert Dantzler, who teaches at Landrum Middle School, is one of several instructors who are employed during Houston Prep. His own son, Javaughn, a ninth-grader, also attended Prep classes this year.
“The program really develops math and science skills. It is organized with those skills in mind,” he said. “I’m very pro-enrichment for students. Our students need access to summer enrichment program like the one here that increases math and science skills. It’s definitely beneficial.”
Professor Richard Aló is program director of Houston Prep and executive director of UHD’s Center for Computational Science and Advanced Distributed Simulation. He states that the program is “making a difference in producing exceptional students who will go on to become leaders in engineering, mathematics and science.”
“Moving forward into the next decade without such efforts, our nation is risking its leadership role in the high technology society that we have developed,” he has also said.
“The intent of Houston Prep is to provide students with the academic and intellectual competencies they will need to succeed in high school, in college preparation courses, and in college programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Houston Prep Coordinator Sangeeta Gad said.
“Participating students get ahead of their peers in their schools, meet new friends from all over the city, and learn from them,” she added. “Participation in Houston Prep also gives students glimpses into higher education, college professors and STEM curriculum.”