Catch the Next’s Ascender Foundational Summit took place May 20-24 at the University of Texas at Austin. The five-day summit focused on a variety of topics and goals that included: cultural capital in the classroom, crafting curriculum, and creating a more engaged cohort. This year’s summit began with a welcome and introduction from CTN CEO Dr. Maria Martha Chavez and Director of Professional Development, Esmeralda Macias. Following the introduction, Dr. Maria Martha Chavez, introduced the program’s mission to help the participants learn about CTN’s work and preview the training sequence for the week.  Dr. Chavez, Esmeralda and Debra McBeath, CTN Director of Communications, then led a group discussion entitled, “Intentions and Expectations: Setting Norms for Learning,” in which participants defined their learning expectations and contributed to a discussion of norms for the week. After a short break, Dr. Chavez, Esmeralda, and CTN South Texas College Fellow, Anna Alaniz engaged participants in a writing practice titled “Validating Identity through Writing Practice.” Here, participants experienced ways in which the process of writing could be used to guide discussion, form a community and build literacy skills.

After lunch, Debra and Anna continued the presentation by engaging the participants in a writing practice called, “Leveraging Cultural Capital: An Asset-Based Approach,” where they reflected on their cultural strengths. Next, Jon Herrin CTN Co-Director of Research and Evaluation, initiated an activity called, “Student Engagement by the Numbers: A Look at Effective Practice,” where participants looked at the findings of a study which pinpointed what strategies were most likely to yield positive student outcomes. Following a short break, CTN Fellows, Ariel Flores, from Austin Community College, and Anna Alaniz of South Texas College, gave a presentation on “Intentional Recruitment: Building a Strong Cohort” which focused on the fundamentals of recruiting students into the program and understanding the importance of this for the success of the program overall. Next, they assembled a small group activity called, “How to Build your Cohort: A Planning Session” where participants brainstormed methods for recruitment on their campuses. Participants ended the day with a reflection of the day.

The second day of the summit focused on crafting more engaging curriculum. The day started with Esmeralda having the participants engage in a group activity in which they explored their personal histories and shared them with the assigned learning communities in a presentation entitled, “Our Reading Histories: Learning Communities.” Next, Dr. Lydia CdeBaca, CTN Director, TLFSS, and Dr. Rafael Castillo, CTN Fellow and Palo Alto College professor, presented, “Defining ‘Culturally Relevant’: Inspiring and Engaging Students through Literature” to help participants understand how students benefit from a reading and writing curriculum that reflects their social, historical, and cultural background as well as the importance of integrating culturally relevant literature to the program. After a short break, Frank Savina of the UT-Dana Center presented an activity called, “Making Math Relevant,” where participants explored ways to make mathematics engaging and relevant to STEM and non-STEM majors.

After lunch, Anna Alaniz presented a writing practice, entitled, “To Break Tradition? Family Influences on Career and Major Choice.” Here, participants engaged in a personal development lesson exploring the role culture and family expectation has on career choice. Subsequently, Esmeralda led a discussion called, “Engagement by Design: Making Every Lesson Count,” where participants discussed the foundations of lesson planning with an eye on engagement and retention. Later, Esmeralda had participants share a lesson from their discipline in an activity called, “Lesson Workshop and Share.” Following a short break, Anna and Esmeralda continued with the theme of incorporating family into the program through “Bringing the Community to Campus: Organizing a Family Night.” This presentation emphasized the importance of including family into the program and will discuss how to organize a “Noche de Familia.” Finally, participants reflected on the day in their journals.

Day three focused on creating an active and engaged cohort. The first presentation was, “Jigsaw: The Student Experience,” by Jon and Esmeralda, where participants engaged in an active reading activity that encourages discussion of the college experience from multiple perspectives. After a break, the next presentation was, “A Pedagogic Vision for the Future: Validation Theory and Sentipensante,” by Dr. Laura Rendon, Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Participants learned about the theoretical basis for our model and how practicing these core concepts can create meaningful experiences for both teachers and students. Former CTN students also presented during the summit. In the segment, “Si Se Puede: Alumni Speak Out,” Cloe Llanos, Michelle de Leon Hernandez, Christina Medina, Yolanda Tierra-Blanca, and Diana Gorostieta-Martinez and others gave testimony to their experiences with the program and answered participants’ questions.

After lunch, the summit organized into several breakout sessions. The first session, “Fostering Classroom Engagement through Active Reading,” hosted by Esmeralda, participants engaged in an R.S.P.C. reading activity that helps students engage critically with course content. Frank Savina focused on a math session. Stacy Ybarra, CTN Director of Student Engagement, and Ariel Flores, Austin Community College Advisor, hosted “Best practices for Advising and Counseling.” Here advisors and counselors discussed the best practices for supporting students outside the classroom. Debra continued the presentations with “Making Thinking Visible.” During this presentation, participants were introduced to three activities to help students learn how to learn. After a short intermission, Anna engaged participants in a writing activity called, “Mentorship and Engagement,” where they reflected on the role formal and informal mentors have had on their lives in anticipation of tomorrow’s sessions. Finally, participants finished the day reflecting on what they learned, and the day was adjourned.

Day four concentrated on widening the community. The first presentation, “Mentee Training: Preparing Students for the Mentor Relationship,” was hosted by Alejandra Polcik, coordinator at Austin Community College. The goal involved participants experiencing a mentee training exercise and discussing the best ways to prepare students for this component. Alejandra Polcik, then introduced “Mentorship in the Ascender Model,” providing an overview of the mentoring component and how it is organized and coordinated at one community college. She continued with a “Mentor-Mentee Panel” discussion, where participants heard from mentor-mentee pairs from the program about their experiences. After a short intermission, Debra McBeath, Anna Alaniz, and Esmeralda gave a discussion on “Approaches to Student Engagement,” where participants explored different ways to integrate the student club and foster a sense of community among new and existing students.

After lunch, Frank, Anna, Stacy, Esmeralda, and Dr. Maria Martha Chavez organized a group activity called, “Curriculum Design by Discipline,” where participants engaged in backwards design activity to begin to think about ways of incorporating the elements of the model into their current practice. Next, Esmeralda led a discussion entitled, “Place-based Writing.” Here, contributors engaged in a place-based writing activity with their small groups. Following a short break, participants learned how to revise their writings in preparation for a narrative share the next day in “Narrative Share: Feedback as Validation” by Esmeralda. Again, participants reflected on their day.

Following the sessions was the Foundational Summer Summit Reception from 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. in the George I. Sanchez Building – Al Kiva Room at UT. As guests arrived and filled their plates from the buffet, they were entertained by the flamenco guitar music of David Cordoba.   Guests were treated to a special reading performance by Esmeralda Macias. Dr. Armenta from ACC was the keynote speaker for the night. The evening ended with the awarding of stoles and certificates to this year’s cohort.

The fifth and final day emphasized envisioning the year ahead. CTN Staff presented the available resources within their division in “Where to Find What You Need: Materials and Follow Up.” Dr. Maria Martha Chavez and Jon Herrin gave a presentation on “Research and Evaluation,” where participants learned how data was collected and how student success was measured for the program. Next, Debra and Esmeralda led a discussion, “Putting it Together: Return to the Parking Lot/Norms,” where participants discussed elements for important teamwork, identify on and off campus stakeholders, and draft a plan of “next steps” for their return. Finally, after a short break, participants shared their final writing pieces and understood the power of the writing process.

This year’s summit was sponsored by the Greater Texas Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, the Raul Tijerina Jr. Foundation, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Bank of America, and the University of Texas at Austin, College of Education, Educational Leadership and Policy Program.



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