Lee College adopts Drew Elementary as ‘College Bound’

Partnership expands commitment to create college-going culture throughout service area

BAYTOWN, TX – With the support and resources of Lee College and  the mentorship and involvement of dedicated residents of historic Barrett Station, every student at Charles R. Drew Elementary School in the Crosby Independent School District has set their sights on achieving a new goal for the future: attending college and earning a degree.

Rooty Rebel at Drew Elementary
Lee College brought Rooty the Rebel, the Runnin’ Rebels Basketball Team, the Rebel Heat Dance Team and a host of faculty, staff and administrators to Charles R. Drew Elementary in Barrett Station for a pep rally to kick off the new “College Bound School” partnership. As part of the effort, Lee College will provide Drew with support and resources to help ensure every student goes to college and earns a degree.

Lee College has adopted Drew Elementary as a “College Bound School” as part of the Cradle to Career Network, an ongoing effort to create a college-going culture for local youth by engaging all members of the community in providing wrap-around support as students transition into college – from schools and educators to non-profit organizations, health and human services agencies, business and industry, local government and residents at large.

“Congratulations on being future college graduates! We stand together as a community committed to you, and you have to be committed to excellence in everything you do,” DeDe Griffith, Interim Vice President of Instruction, told hundreds of cheering Drew students at a recent pep rally held in their gym to kick off the new partnership between the college and elementary school.

At the rally, Rooty the Rebel, the Runnin’ Rebels Basketball Team and the Rebel Heat dancers showed off dazzling dunks and delivered special performances. Crosby ISD Superintendent Keith Moore, Lee College President Dr. Dennis Brown and other administrators and faculty offered words of welcome and encouragement, and enthusiastic students – all clad in red T-shirts emblazoned with “Lee College” and “Future College Graduate” – raised their hands and voices to pledge to go to college.

“We are so very excited to have you as part of Lee College,” Brown said. “If you put forth the effort, you will be a success story. All of you can walk across that stage and receive that college degree.”

For the College Bound partnership, Lee College will provide Drew Elementary with regular programming and opportunities to help students and their families learn more about the value and importance of higher education. Students at every grade level will learn about science concepts from college faculty, and the Lee College Mobile Go Center – a 42-foot, air-conditioned trailer outfitted with high-speed Internet, satellite dishes, remote printers, laptops and LCD televisions – will visit the elementary campus each month. On board the center, students will learn about the wide variety of rewarding and interesting careers available to college graduates and have access to a library of more than 500 e-books on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

Parents at Drew Elementary will also be involved in the effort, participating in a common reading program and receiving guidance and information about how best to prepare their children for college success.

“You’re part of a team and you’re part of a family,” said Drew Elementary School Principal Walter Berringer. “We have an obligation to each other to make sure we’re successful. We have to make great decisions and work as hard as we can every single day. There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to start college, and there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to finish college.”

As he looked at the sea of red tees and smiling faces at the pep rally kick-off, Jerry Bluitt realized he had come full circle. An alumnus of Drew Elementary who was instrumental in helping get the College Bound partnership in place, Bluitt retired from a 30-year career as an IBM engineer and returned to his native Barrett Station to help usher the historically African-American enclave into a brighter and better future. The program will help recreate the loving and unified family atmosphere he remembered and benefitted from as a child, he said.

“After they saw the model, the community said it was long overdue,” said Bluitt, who has helped raise support for and awareness of the College Bound School and Cradle to Career Network programs with faith-based organizations and local businesses in the area. “For our kids to be successful, we’ve got to shape them in good and positive ways. We have to walk with them.”

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Latino students find encouragement through Puente Project

Like all of the students involved in the Puente Project at Lee College, future physicist Hugo Anguiano and budding engineer Verenice Valencia received incredible support on their journey to an associate’s degree and beyond: help with academics, scholarship money, connections with professional mentors, exposure to new cultural experiences and a deeper understanding of their Latino heritage.

Putnte Project students
Students in the Puente Project at Lee College receive academic support, community mentors, opportunities to visit universities and cultural sites around the state, and an in-depth exploration of Latino history and heritage. The program is seeking professionals to serve as mentors to the newest Puente enrollees. From left: Yesica Flores, Stephanie Moreno, Lizbeth Bejar, Mitchell Medrano, Andrea Gallegos, Prescilla Sanchez, Xochitl Cortez, Corie Cole, Cierra Marron, Yoselin Velasquez, Deborah Ridley, Jose Pulido, and Jasmine Cardenas.

But it’s the feeling of having a second family on campus — a Puente family bonded by the shared goal of completing their education and achieving their dreams — that has meant the most of all.

“I like to push myself; I like a little struggle,” said Valencia, now a junior industrial engineering major at the University of Houston who continues to return to Lee College to work as a Puente tutor. “I knew I wanted to move up and advance, and the classes I took gave me more structure as a student and motivation to talk to my professors. But the family part of Puente really helped me out. I found study buddies and my parents got involved in my education. The friends I met in Puente are the ones I still talk to at UH. We all transferred together, and  we still have access to Puente resources and guidance.”

Lee College was the fourth community college district in Texas to host the Puente Project, which aims to increase the number of under-served students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models for new generations. Approximately 42 percent of students enrolled at Lee College are Hispanic/Latino, earning the college a federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Through Puente, Latino students are provided with academic support centered on integrated reading and writing, English and an introduction to Mexican-American Studies. They visit universities around the state, like the University of Texas and Sam Houston State University, and are invited to participate in academic conferences and unique social and cultural events, like the annual “Noche de Familia” and Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Puente students have also been involved in highlighting the contributions of the Latino community in Baytown, even painting a mural at Sterling Municipal Library that depicted the stories of those who made an impact on Latino and multicultural history in the region.

“The trips and events bring us even closer together because they show us a glimpse of the future and where we can all be if we work harder,” said Anguiano, who has worked as a Puente tutor for 2 years while also pursuing associate degrees in physics and mathematics. “I came here at 9 from Mexico and still feel that I’ve learned a new perspective on what it means to be Chicano in America – the activists and artists, the struggles and meaningful places.”

Puente students are also paired with community mentors who share their professional and academic experiences while motivating the students to reach their goals. All Puente mentors are professionals who have earned a college degree and committed to spending at least nine hours per semester interacting with their mentees. Those who are interested in serving as mentors are invited to a training dinner set for 6-8 p.m.,  Wednesday, Oct. 5, in the Bayer Conference Center on campus.

“I gained a good role model and a friend,” Valencia said, describing the  ExxonMobil engineer who took her under her wing. “Getting a degree is one thing, but getting a job is another. She has spent time to show me what it is to be a professional engineer, helped me with essays and helped me with networking. I’ve learned so much from her educationally and personally.”

And although Anguiano has benefited from his relationship with his mentor and the instructors and staff who keep Puente going, he has also learned how to be a better student and leader. When he earns his doctorate degree, begins conducting research in particle physics and quantum theory and starts finding answers to the age-old questions of the universe, he will remember how the Puente Project at Lee College made a difference.

“I would encourage students to put their energy and focus into Puente,” Anguiano said. “In those classes, you’re more likely to find out what you want to be and do. You don’t have to worry too much about how to succeed in college; you’re part of a family.”

For more information about the Puente Project at Lee College and the upcoming mentor training, contact Sarah Steinkopf at 281.425.6808 or ssteinkopf@lee.edu.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.