About Whitney and the TRiO Program
My name is Whitney Srsen, and I am an Academic Advisor for a TRiO Program called Educational Talent Search. I have been working for this program for 2 years, and I help students who are the first in their family to go to and graduate from college. A majority of the students are also considered low income or economically disadvantaged. Understandably, these students don’t have many resources to be college ready, and there may not be support for them or a culture of going to college within their families.
Our program is hosted by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Our region is primarily rural and impoverished, even though this area is the more affluent of the state as a whole. The college-going rate for the State of Arkansas as a whole is 51.7%. Last year, our program had a college-going rate of 80%; some students opted to join the United States military or to join the workforce following high school. Obviously, our program outpaces the state average. The national average of students who enter college directly from high school is about 63%. The Educational Talent Search program is a national TRiO program funded by the Department of Education. It is competitive grant-funded program, and there are similar programs located nationwide. Our program specifically serves about 1,000 7th grade through 12th grade students in targeted schools with a demonstrated need. We go to each school—middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools—once a month and conduct college preparatory workshops that cover topics such as financial aid, first year experience, standardized test preparation and materials, and other topics our program considers necessary. We even take students to visit local colleges once a year!
At the University of Arkansas, there are three Talent Search programs with 11 total staff members. We work together to create and develop our own curriculum that will best educate our students about college readiness. For the 2012-2013 school year, which in our schools ran from August of 2012 to May of 2013, I was on the team that was supposed to develop curriculum for middle school students in grades 7 and 8. For this age group, their curriculum needs to be interactive and exciting; this age group wants to work in groups, get out of their seat, and have fast paced workshops. My development team decided to assign the topic of social interact to one of our workshops, and that was one of the workshops I was in charge of developing. For our workshops, we typically have 3-5 portions, or activities, that make up the lesson plan.
The first activity I wanted to implement was an activity in which students would study facial expressions with no words that described what the context was. I found some resources online, but the resources I found were of photographic images of one white male dressed in a suit and tie making different facial expressions. To me, this resource seemed very archaic; students don’t want to see. Our program prides ourselves with being cutting edge and fun, as far as our curriculum goes. We’re always trying to find innovative ways to cover workshop material, and we want our workshop materials to be unique and something they typically won’t see in their schools or libraries. That aspect helps make our program a better program and it helps our retention as a result.
The link with the Quirky Kid Resources
When I started searching for other resources, I was thrilled to find the Quirky Kid Face It cards. They feature kids of different backgrounds and genders. Also, the hand drawn quality of the cards is unmatched by most American products I was able to find during my search for resources. I felt that they were a perfect resource for the activity I was implementing for this workshop!
For the workshop, students were supposed to have one card each. The Face It cards come in a sets of 35, and we typically have 30 students per workshop. Students were instructed to assign a one-word emotion or description to their cards. Then, they were to work in groups of four to discuss and agree on all four of the one-word emotions. Then, as a group, the facilitator would lead a discussion on what the whole group thought and whether or not they agreed with the one-word emotion the small groups decided on. Then, the facilitator would ask how they came to their conclusions. Common answers were that the students looked at the eyes of the subjects on the cards to look for signs of emotion. Students also looked at the mouths of the subjects on the cards for signs of upturned or downturned mouths indicating either happiness or sadness, respectively.
There were also a few cards with extra clues, such as a thermometer indicating sickness, sunglasses that could indicate emotions such as nonchalant or casual, or other slang-type words that students could use, and there was a card in which the subject wore a crown, and students perceived many emotions from that card ranging from pleasant to arrogant. The students really enjoyed the use of the cards in this workshop. It seemed that they could relate to the cards because they were looking at images of children, not images of adults. I felt that they benefited from this exercise because after this activity, the workshop moved on to a discussion on non-verbal communication.
The intent of the Face It cards paired with the non-verbal communication “Quick Guide” was to point out that research shows that adolescents have a very hard time deciphering an emotion out of context, so the “Quick Guide” gave some pointer of what to pay attention to, such as body language and posture.
I also presented the Quirky Kid resources at a statewide conference last October. I was provided with brochures and other materials to give out, as well as materials to demonstrate. When we present our work at conferences, we usually point out what inspired us to create certain curriculum and resources. Regarding the Quirky Kid resources, we are able to use the resources “as is;” in other words, sometimes we have to recreate a handout or a game from an existing resource, and we really emphasized to our colleagues that with the Quirky Kid resources, we were able to use them as they were because they fit our needs so perfectly.
The feedback I received was that many of my colleagues really enjoyed the resources. However, our programs have just received a 5.2% reduction in funding from the American federal government, and our office and other TRiO programs are concerned at the prospect of having to lower our budgets. However, we purchased the materials in the previous budget year, and the amazing thing about these products is that they will stand the test of time, and our programs will have multiple occasions to give children the opportunity to utilize and learn from the Quirky Kid resources.
The Face It cards and the other resources will last for many years of education with our students, and we are very fortunate to have successfully utilized their wonderful resources.
Report on the College-Going Rate of Public School Graduates. Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Agenda Item No. 3. July 29, 2011.
College Participation Rates: College-Going Rates of High School Graduates Directly from High School. National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, Tom Mortenson, Postsecondary Opportunity. 2008.