When faith centers and secular education unite, the results can be spectacular. Such is the case with the Launch Academy, a math and science summer program sponsored by Bethany Baptist Church of Los Angeles and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
The winning partnership between the two institutions has led to a six-week intensive curriculum that prepares young people for college and academic success in school. Launch Academy is just one of many programs and partnerships across the UC system that provide academic support and tools for low-income and underrepresented-minority K-12 students and their educators.
Now in its second year of operation at Bethany, the program is on track to serve 102 students, from ages 4 to 14, in the Baldwin Village – Crenshaw area. In addition to engaging and interactive classes, workshops will be held to acquaint parents with the college preparation and application process.
“Launch Academy operates under the auspices of Bethany’s community development corporation. It is part of the church connecting with the community beyond just on Sunday and it is more than what you would traditionally do in a vacation Bible school program,” said Rodman Miles, who was appointed by Pastor L.A. Keesee to coordinate the effort with UC officials.
“We are trying to be more relevant to the community’s needs and these are the types of initiatives that people are asking for. Parents are recognizing the value of having a program of this nature,” he said.
The academy also helps UC meet its goals of enrolling more California students, particularly in communities that have low application numbers. According to Claudia Martinez, executive director for UC Educator Programs and the California Subject Matter Project, UC President Janet Napolitano established “Achieve UC” to help promote the accessibility and affordability of a UC education.
“Launch Academy is one small part of the President Napolitano’s broader initiative to make sure that every California student who dreams of a UC education knows that there are resources available to help them get there, plus generous financial aid to help cover the cost,” explained Martinez.
“This spring, more than 150 Achieve UC outreach events were held at schools, churches and community groups across California. We estimate that we’ve reached some 45,000 students from schools with lower-than average college-going rates through Achieve UC events,” she noted.
Based on the latest statistics, Achieve UC appears to be a good mechanism to publicize UC schools. Last year, UC welcomed its largest and most diverse class ever, with more than 37 percent of freshmen and 34 percent of transfers coming from underrepresented minority groups.
The teaching staff adds another benefit to the Launch Academy. The instructors are veteran certified teachers that are graduates of training programs offered through the UC-led California Subject Matter Project, a network of nine discipline-based projects administered by UC that provide rigorous professional development for K-12 teachers to enhance learning for all students.
“The teachers are experts in designing a creative learning environment that is engaging, yet rigorous enough to keep the students interested. The teachers would like children to get excited about life-long learning and to see themselves as learners,” said Martinez.
Miles added that Launch Academy helps Bethany with its overall educational efforts. The church already operates Bethany Christian Bible College, an accredited ecumenical institution that registering more than 500 people a year. With the Launch Academy, Bethany aims to improve its secular education efforts.
“We have a great partnership with UC. Through the Launch Academy, we can offer an informal educational program that exposes children to STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) and help them become competitive in the 21st century,” declared Miles.