UW News

January 8, 1997

UW Scholar Center supports South Seattle and Renton students in academics

The Samuel E. Kelly Scholars Center is following the reputation of the man it is named after.

Named in honor of the UW’s first vice president for minority affairs who is considered by many to be a legend and a powerful leader in Seattle’s African American community, the center has paid the SAT registration fees for 15 students and driven students to test centers on two occasions. Moreover, the center recently established free SAT classes at the East Madison YMCA at their request.

The Samuel E. Kelly Scholars Center provides solid academic support to high school students from underrepresented groups through tutoring and free SAT preparation. Its goal is to encourage and prepare minority students to enter the science and math fields, particularly at the University of Washington.

The center opened its doors in October 1995 with the help of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant and through the guidance of visionaries Millie Russell, vice president for minority affairs and lecturer in biology, and John Palka, director of the UW biology department. Russell says that the center is the first and only one of its kind in the nation.

Russell said she wanted to help high school students go to college, and felt that a structured environment conducive to learning could help them get good grades and SAT scores. “We call it the Scholar’s Center, because we want the students to think they are scholars here; we want them to aspire to be scholars.”

Within the heart of Seattle’s Central District in the Seattle Vocational Technical Institute building, the center has served more than 100 different students in the Renton-south Seattle area. From Mondays through Thursdays, tutors, the majority of whom are UW minority students, assist high school students with homework from 4 to 6 p.m. And for the remaining two hours, 6 to 8 p.m., tutors help teach SAT skills.

To enroll in the center, the high school students must sign a contract promising to attend at least two times a week for two hours, and their parents co-sign. “They really stick to this (contract) for a couple months to a year,” Palka said.

With hard work and perseverance, the students’ results have shone through. Palka said that the center’s participants achieved a combined SAT score that is 150 points higher than the national average score. “Nationwide African American students got the mean score of 744, whereas the mean for African American students at the center was 933. Thirteen out of fifteen students who took the SAT went above the national mean.” Palka admits that this is not a controlled study, but feels that the numbers are encouraging nonetheless.

James Dupree, executive director of secondary education in the Renton School District, helped design the SAT tutoring and training for the center. He attributes the participants’ success to the center’s training style. “We are more time intensive. The kids are receiving more SAT preparation and intensive instruction where minority kids do the poorest–vocabulary.” In addition to building vocabulary daily, Dupree said that he and the tutors focus on teaching different types of problem solving techniques, which is something he feels the traditional programs don’t spend time on.

During the SAT instruction, tutors and students alike take a vocabulary or math test for 30 minutes. “We go over the answers every day,” said Philip Kinlow, a junior architecture pre-major, who volunteers as a tutor two to three times a week.

Kinlow, who became a tutor when the center opened, said he got involved with teaching due to Dupree. “He told me about the program and asked me to join. It sounded like something I wanted to get involved with.”

Because he himself got the average SAT score, Kinlow initially felt unsure about tutoring students on the SAT. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out great because Dupree showed us techniques on how to take the tests and teach.”

Over the past year, Kinlow has noticed improvement on both sides–participants and himself. As the students’ test scores and comprehension of math concepts has increased, so has his confidence. “I learned how to speak in front of a group. I also have gotten better at explaining (concepts) to students,” he said.

Likewise during one year’s time, organizations such as the East Madison YMCA, the Garfield High School Parents’ Group and Rotary Boys and Girls Club have requested the center to tutor and teach SAT preparation classes to their high school students. In addition, the number of students enrolled in the center has doubled.

“The word has gotten out,” says Palka, as he explains the increased demand. “We are taking a hold in the community.” ###

Note: Grace Shim is a Diversity News Intern in the Office of News and Information, under a program supported by the Ford Foundation. <!—at end of each paragraph insert