PAWS program encourages college attendance among elementary school kids

By Esan Swan, Chattanooga, TN—Postsecondary Awareness With Success (PAWS) allows UTC students to help serve fourth and fifth grades at Brown Academy

In session: UTC students participate in PAWS, an after-school college awareness, mentoring and juvenile delinquency prevention program, at Brown Academy.

In session: UTC students participate in PAWS, an after-school college awareness, mentoring and juvenile delinquency prevention program, at Brown Academy.

in an after-school college awareness, mentoring and juvenile delinquency prevention program.

For mentors, the program meets twice a week, Monday and Thursday afternoons from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., with the option of staying later to help for dismals at the First Christian Church.

PAWS will begin meeting on Feb. 4 and conclude the second week of April.

About 90 applications have been turned in and acceptance depends on the numbers of mentorees and space but averages anywhere from 50 to 80 students, Jillian Pennyman, PAWS researcher and coordinator, said.

“What’s so great and unique about our program is that we are the only program we have been able to find nationally that offers early collegiate awareness to elementary school students,” Pennyman said. “Those discussions about college really need to happen early on.”

Pennyman said she needed students to be fully committed to the program and need to have a passion for working with children.

“I think it’s so important to perform community service and be active,” she said. “Why just sit in a classroom and not do anything else?”

Pennyman also said the best benefits for the kids are that they know they can seek advice, or have someone to talk to and someone to be there for them.

She said, as opposed to older adults, UTC students can better connect with the kids. S

he said the students at UTC who become involved, especially those students with education, psychology or social work backgrounds, gain a lot by having that experience and can shape that experience to what they are currently doing for their major.

“When the kids are able to come to campus this is like Disney World to them,” Pennyman said. “They love seeing college students and it makes them envision their own future being either here at UTC or on a college campus.”

Graduating senior from Hendersonville, Tenn., and lead mentor Jonathan Brocco said, “Our goal is to make the children aware of the endless possibilities that are available to them in the world once they earn some type of degree and what steps are necessary to earn that degree.”

“Whenever you are able to help a young person get on track, improve their grades and behavior, and open their minds to the future, it is the most rewarding, positive, and fulfilling experience,” Brocco said.

Pennyman said she believes many young students need encouragement and people telling them what kind of possibilities they have for their future as early as possible.

She said that many of the children in the program come from low economic areas and are surrounded by negativity where parents work hard and may not have the time to give the kids the information that they need.

The program was established from a grant in 2007 when Sandy Cole, executive director of the Center for Community Career Education (CCCE), developed an idea to help middle school students stay out of trouble while getting them prepared for the future. After learning that children between the ages of 9 and 12 were already getting into trouble, she shifted her focus to a younger group of fourth and fifth graders.

Cole’s efforts evolved from an emphasis on avoiding violent behavior and speaking with children about dealing with their environments to discussing college and a positive future.

The program seeks to expand in the next two or three years to other elementary schools in the county.

In total, PAWS has seen around 400 volunteer students from UTC as mentors.