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CARE Academy Prepares CFISD High School Students for College Success at LSC-CyFair

The College Awareness Readiness and Education (CARE) Academy, a uniquely collaborative partnership between the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Lone Star College-CyFair, provides thousands of high school students a ticket to college success.

Through this partnership, now in its fifth year, CARE Academy students take LSC-CyFair’s highest level developmental education English and math classes as high school seniors.

“We’ve had tremendous success with reading and writing students. We went from 48.6% of our students moving from developmental reading to college level reading within one year of entering college in 2014 to 66.3% in 2015, showing a 17.7% increase,” said Jason LaPres, Dean of Transitional Studies, Education and First Year Experience. “In addition, we are seeing that CARE Academy students are performing as well as our general population students in English and are performing considerably better in math.”

Michelle Dewalt, LSC-CyFair’s CARE Academy faculty fellow, serves as the liaison between CFISD and LSC-CyFair, working directly with the teachers and specifically with the curriculum. 

“We want to assure students that they are ‘college ready’ when they walk into college-level classes,” she said. “Skipping the placement test is a bonus, but making sure they’re successful in their first-year college courses is more important.”

LSC-CyFair and CFISD faculty created these courses together, aligning the curriculum so CARE Academy students are ready to enter into college-level classes without having to take a college placement test. Students in the 2015-2016 cohort who made a grade of 75 in these courses received a waiver to go directly into college-level English and math bypassing the placement test.

The curriculum has been built so CFISD’s on-level English IV and Advanced Algebra courses are aligned with LSC-CyFair’s Developmental Education English 0309 and Math 0308/0310 courses, which prepares students to take college-level English and math.

DeWalt said students are also learning skills that benefit them across the disciplines. For example, in English, the focus is on how to read for comprehension and how to write for communication, producing strong, quality essays with organized structure. These skills can be used in most classes, including history, government and psychology. 

To help CARE Academy high school teachers prepare for success, LSC-CyFair faculty hosts an annual fall conference. This year the day included a brief overview to reemphasize the CARE Academy’s goals and purpose as well as a number of professional development sessions.

“The high school teachers have been our best advocates. They have been essential in communicating admissions processes and procedures; along with providing exceptional instruction,” said Dr. Michel Rodriguez-Zuch, Dean of Academic Affairs. “They give us classroom time to speak with students and they are consistently talking to them about what’s next in the process.”

In addition, LSC-CyFair CARE Advisors work with CARE Academy teachers to help students maximize the benefits of this college preparation program. Students receive assistance with the Lone Star College application, financial aid form, meeting the bacterial meningitis requirement, getting student IDs and LSC email, and attending New Student Orientation in order to enroll early in college classes. 

The estimated number of students expected to enroll in Fall 2017 at Lone Star College from the graduating class of 2017 is more than 1,000 in English and 400 in Math.

LSC-CyFair Development English Professor Anna Schmidt, who spearheaded the CARE Academy partnership in 2014 and served as the first faculty fellow, said CARE began through a Houston Endowment A+ Challenge Grant in an effort to address college readiness among high school students and to bridge the gap between ISDs and colleges in the Gulf Coast region area.

CARE was developed at a deliberate pace to ensure that critical and valuable elements of this work, such as professional development, assessment of student work and curricular materials, met college learning outcomes while remaining meaningful and relevant to students, she said. 

Schmidt said one of several signs of program success is the communication piece of the partnership.

“I doubt you will find another partnership between an ISD and a college that matches what we have in CARE,” she said. “It’s such a truly uniquely collaborative approach, very seamless and fair. What I love about the collaboration is that we listen to each other. We consistently say ‘our students’ when referring to the students in the CARE Academy.”

Another tangible sign of success is the redesigned curriculum. For the teachers, both math and English curricula incorporate common assessments between the high school and college courses. In English, assignments are graded using the same rubrics, prompts for essays, etc., which provides common ground for conversation. In math, common assessments are built using a “blue print” to measure mastery of the same learning outcomes. High school students are getting relevant information and developing skills for a successful future.

“The CARE Academy is an extremely intensive labor of love; it is still young; and it’s a work in progress,” said Schmidt. “We will never stop looking for ways to improve or ways to design something more effective, more successful, more meaningful. It’s all done in the best interest of students.”

To hear how the CARE Academy has helped students succeed at LSC-CyFair, go to https://youtu.be/rPb3l4uoelE.

For information on the (CARE) Academy, go to LoneStar.edu/care-cyfair-outreach. For information on LSC-CyFair, go to LoneStar.edy/Cyfair.