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Uni High Students Bolster Local African-American Boys' Journey on the College Pipeline

January 10, 2019

A Uni High student (right) watches as a local boy from the DREAAM House program tastes fruit during an activity.
A Uni High student (right) watches as a local boy from the DREAAM House program tastes fruit during an activity.

On December 12, a number of University Laboratory High School (Uni High) students from the Students for a Better World (S4BW) club stayed after school in hopes of making the world a better place for twenty or so local boys. Mostly African Americans, the young boys were from the DREAAM House (Driven to Reach Academic Achievement for Males) program. Part of the Uni-DREAAM Connect partnership, the after-school outreach has this as its short-term goal: to expose young boys to fun and exciting learning opportunities, as well as mentoring. Its long-term goal? To reinforce academics, thus improving the youngsters' achievement so they can successfully navigate the educational pipeline from kindergarten to college.

Local DREAAM House boys experience how liquid nitrogen can impact various materials.
Local DREAAM House boys experience how liquid nitrogen can impact various materials.

The activities introduced the boys to some of the more quirky aspects of science. For instance, the youngsters were invited to participate in an experiment; after eating a piece of candy called Miracle Berries, it briefly impacted their taste buds; making sour things, such as lemons and strawberries, taste sweet. Another activity consisted of several demonstrations by Uni’s chemistry teacher, David Bergandine, who exposed the boys to the wonders of liquid nitrogen. For instance, a bouncy rubber ball became brittle and shattered into pieces when "bounced" after a brief bath in the stuff. Bergandine also did an activity showing the boys the impact of liquid nitrogen on other materials. For example, when immersed in liquid nitrogen, a balloon shriveled as the air molecules contracted, then grew large again as the air molecules expanded after waming up warmed again. The same thing happed to metal objects when immersed in liquid nitrogen.  

Ana Rosu interacts with a young African-American boy as a part of the Uni-DREAAM Connect Initiative's after-school program.
Ana Rosu interacts with a young African-American boy as a part of the Uni-DREAAM Connect Initiative's after-school program.

Uni-DREAAM Connect is the brainchild of Uni High senior Ana Rosu (after prompting by Uni teacher Kathy Rodems who required a service learning component as part of her gender studies class). Rodems originally contacted Champaign-Urbana organizations, arranging for students in her class to volunteer in the community. According to Rodems: "Our Gender Studies course focuses on a range of social justice issues. I incorporated service learning into the curriculum because I wanted to help students understand the course theories and concepts through first-hand experiences. I also wanted opportunities for students to become advocates. My hope is that the service learning experience will help strengthen their civic, social, and emotional skills."

So to fulfill this requirement, Ana initially volunteered 10–15 hours at DREAAM House. Founded by Tracy Dace, the program is a “community impact organization with a justice-informed mission,” that seeks to “reduce the achievement and opportunity gaps among boys and young men,” according to the organization’s website.

Uni chemistry teacher David Bergandine demonstrates to the youngsters that liquid nitrogen can make metal molecules denser, thereby making the metal itself contract.
Uni chemistry teacher David Bergandine demonstrates to the youngsters that liquid nitrogen can make metal molecules denser, thereby making the metal itself contract.

Additionally, Ana was also required to organize an event with the community group she chose. So she arranged an after-school visit to Uni on October 15, 2018, during which DREAAM House kids made slime, saw an elephant toothpaste demo by Uni chemistry teacher David Bergandine, and got to pet biology teacher David Stone’s tarantulas.

After that initial after-school event, however, Ana went far beyond the requirements for the assignment. After experiencing the benefits for both the Uni High students and the DREAAM House participants, she decided it should become a regular thing. “Since that first visit was a success,” Ana reports, “I talked to Mr. Dace and Ms. Rodems, and I proposed that we establish the Uni-DREAAM Connect initiative.”

Her idea was that, instead of just a one-time visit, the kids would visit Uni every month to participate in educational activities. Helping with the activities and interacting with the young visitors would be students from Uni clubs, such as S4BW, the Investment Club, the Model UN, etc. , so Ana contacted the leaders of several clubs, apprised them of the initiative, and signed up S4BW for the December 12th visit. However, because Ana will be graduating from Uni and matriculating to university in the fall, she recently passed the Uni-DREAAM Connect baton on to Ms. Rodems, who will administrate the initiative in the future.

DREAAM House youth engage with Uni teacher David Bergandine during his liquid nitrogen demo.
DREAAM House youth engage with Uni teacher David Bergandine during his liquid nitrogen demo.

Ana says she chose to work with DREAAM House because she wanted to take advantage of its proximity to Uni. “It's a five minute walk away!” she explains. In addition to the ease of facilitating activities between the two partners, her goal in choosing the organization was to familiarize the boys with Uni. “The ultimate hope is that some of the kids like Uni enough that they decide to apply, attend, and take advantage of the opportunities it offers,” she reports.

According to Ana, by doing a variety of activities with the students in Uni’s clubs, the young participants would not only get early interaction with Uni, thus becoming familiar with the school itself, but would also hopefully benefit by being able to explore their interests and get hands-on learning experiences.

A Uni High student (center) interacts with a DREAAM House youngster who is sampling the fruit.
A Uni High student (center) interacts with a DREAAM House youngster who is sampling the fruit.

Rodems echoes Ana’s sentiments regarding how this interaction with Uni and its students might pique DREAAM house students' interest in academics, plus provide them good role models. "We plan to offer a range of different activities such as art, literacy, science, music, math, etc. in an effort to ignite or strengthen an interest. And Uni students are often enthusiastic about exploring their interests, so my hope is through these interactions and shared moments, Uni students can serve as additional role models in their lives."

A win-win for both partners, the collaboration doesn’t just benefit the younger students. Ana believes Uni students will grow through the initiative too, by “improving their communication and teaching skills,” as well as “sharing their interests with the community outside of Uni,” and also by “getting experience taking leadership roles with volunteer work,” she adds.

Rodems adds her appreciation to the parties that helped make the DREAAM House partnership possible: "I am thankful to the Community Learning Lab for connecting us with DREAAM House; thankful for the support from Uni’s administration, faculty, and staff as we develop this relationship; and thankful to Tracy Dace and his staff at DREAAM House for their interest and efforts as well."

A Uni High volunteer (left) watches a DREAAM House youngster taste an orange to determine whether it tastes sweeter.
A Uni High volunteer (left) watches a DREAAM House youngster taste an orange to determine whether it tastes sweeter.

More on DREAAM House: The main goal of DREAAM House is to provide a support system for young boys, African-American boys in particular, to help them navigate many of sociey’s pitfalls that might prevent them from becoming well-educated, productive adults who contribute to society. Begun in 2015, each summer since its inception, the organization has added a learning cohort of incoming kindergarten boys. Thus, from summer 2015 through summer 2018, DREAAM House has added four cohorts of boys to the program. To date, the program has worked with over 125 boys.


Story and photos by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

More: Champaign-Urbana Community, K-6 Outreach, Undeserved Minorities, University Laboratory High School, 2019

David Bergandine (right) teaches local boys about science during his liquid nitrogen activity, part of Uni-DREAAM Connect after-school activities on December 12th.
David Bergandine (right) teaches local boys about science during his liquid nitrogen activity, part of Uni-DREAAM Connect after-school activities on December 12th.