The Commercial Appeal, Local News, April 15, 2015
Sports ministry’s lab builds college credits after school
By Jane Roberts
Jasmine Baker, 16, has loved science since she was a child, but that hasn’t always meant she paid attention in class.
“I knew I was going to have to listen one day,” she said last week outside the makeshift science lab at Memphis Athletic Ministries at St. Andrew A.M.E. Church in South Memphis. “I mean, I love experimenting. I look at bugs, everything.”
Baker, a student at Hamilton High, hopes to be a scientist. A year ago, she wasn’t thinking that way. A year ago, the science lab — with its donated microscopes — was just a closet off the basketball court at the ministry at 1472 Mississippi Boulevard.
That was before Ernie Prude, the program’s neighborhood director, and Angela Ventura-Wooten, biology teacher and head of dual enrollment at Southwest Tennessee Community College, had a brainstorming session.
“I was actually thinking of a way to get the parents to take college classes,” Prude said over the steady drumming of basketballs in the gym outside his office. “I got to talking to Ms. Wooten; she said she could do it first with the students. We started from there.”
Now, in what is likely the smallest college biology class in the city (and the only one in the ministry’s network of after-school programs), four teenagers are earning college credits after their regular school day is over. Plus they are doing their own research on fruit fly genetics through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant, a National Science Foundation project to accelerate the number of students of color studying math, science and technology as undergrads in college and later in graduate school.
“Most of our students don’t think of graduate study,” said Ventura-Wooten. “The way to do it is to get them around graduate students. Well, that’s what my students do.”
The fruit-fly research is scheduled from 4:45 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays in the closet at Memphis Athletic Ministries. Once or twice a week, the students go to the Southwest college campus on Union Avenue to do traditional the biology lab work. Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the four — Baker, Jamarius Duncan, Angela Maxwell and Daniel Thomas — are back at St. Andrew’s for Ventura-Wooten’s biology lecture.
“It’s not that hard, if you stay focused and organized and keep up with your notes,” Maxwell said.
Dual enrollment is one of the fastest growing programs on college campuses. It allows high school students to earn college credit at no cost to them. In Tennessee, a state lottery grant pays up to $300 a year for juniors and seniors. Next year, that amount will rise to $500.
In the fall of 2010, 546 high school students were registered at the University of Memphis. Last fall, the enrollment hit 963, a 76 percent increase.
“Recently, we’ve been working with representatives from local school districts to expand course offerings beyond traditional dual enrollment courses in English, history and the sciences,” said Richard Irwin, interim vice provost at UofM. “For example, this year we are partnering with several schools to deliver coursework in career skills and entrepreneurship. We are visiting with others about courses in personal finance, anthropology, and college readiness.”
Last week, Southwest honored Memphis Athletic Ministries’ four students, plus Ciara Slade, a high school senior graduating from the community college with honors this spring, as its outstanding dual-enrollment students.
The four will have at least six college credits by the time school is out this spring, including three from an intro-to-college course every freshman takes. The ministry offered it last fall, its first dual enrollment course.
“A lot of kids from this gym make it to college,” Prude says. “In the first year, they’re calling me and saying they are not doing so well. Well, this way, they will get a head start. So if they mess up, they’ll still be OK.”
Memphis Athletic Ministries plans to offer more courses at St. Andrews. It has also working with Mid-South Community College in West Memphis to add more course choices.
“High school students should be able to enroll in college courses at Mid-South CC as early as this summer,” said Rajah Brown, MAM’s chief programming officer.