Marquette University (MU) and the United Community Center (UCC)
Youth Empowered to Succeed (YES) Program
The partnership between Marquette University’s Department of Physical Therapy and the United Community Center is the key feature of the Marquette YES Program. The YES Program serves 50 disadvantaged Hispanic middle school students in urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to both partners. Seventy-five percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, and most are bilingual. Gang violence, low academic achievement, lack of role models, and rising rates of obesity – which lead to chronic diseases later in life – are paramount issues in this Hispanic student population.8 Marquette University has a 30-year history of addressing health disparities in disadvantaged populations, with seven national awards from the American Physical Therapy Association for its efforts.
The Department of Physical Therapy at Marquette University hosts a Program in Exercise Science, which offers extensive human resources to support YES, including exercise physiologists, wellness professionals, and undergraduate students in exercise physiology and athletic training. Marquette provides data analysis, fitness prescriptions, role models for academic success, mentors, tutorials, and career exploration in health professions. Its Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science provides statistical analysis, and the University’s College of Education offers external evaluation of YES objectives.
The United Community Center (UCC) contains all of the remaining elements for a vibrant youth empowerment program. The UCC’s comprehensive approach is rooted in the many essential components of YES — the Bruce-Guadalupe Community School (BGCS), Youth Center, Latino Arts, Inc., Fitness Center, and UCC’s rich business connections within the community. For the YES Program, this unique community-based organization (CBO) is conveniently located on one contiguous campus in the heart of Milwaukee’s Hispanic community, just two miles south of Marquette University. Covering 12 square blocks and containing 10 separate buildings, the United Community Center has offered programs ranging from education to elder programs for the past 41 years.
UCC Executive Director Mr. Ricardo Diaz says, “The UCC is a one-stop shop for Hispanic residents in Milwaukee, serving the educational, social, cultural, recreational, and health needs of three to 93 year olds.”
Both the UCC and YES Program employ an “asset model” to develop youth assets that previous generations did not have. Mr. Diaz explains, “We raise the bar and show students what they can do, as opposed to focusing on what they cannot do.” Mr. Virgilio Rodriguez, UCC Associate Director, oversees YES programming. He says, “YES addresses risky behaviors. When students see no vision for the future, they perceive no risk — they have nothing to lose.” Accordingly, YES builds assets and a vision for the future which ultimately reduces risky behaviors through tutoring, mentorship, case management, fitness, and nutrition. Because of its long history of success, the UCC brought immediate credibility to the YES Program, with Hispanic families overcoming one obstacle to youth empowerment. Each UCC component and its role in YES is detailed in the partnership diagram and described on the proceeding pages.
All YES students are from Bruce-Guadalupe Community School (BGCS). The United Community Center operates BGCS as a charter school, located on the UCC campus serving K3 through 8th grade. Forty-two percent of its students’ parents have a middle school education or less, and only 58% have completed high school. In 2010, the YES Program started with 50 BGCS youth from grades 6 and 7. They are now 8th and 9th graders. BGCS offers its academic program in a bicultural environment, where parental involvement is strongly encouraged. While BGCS student performance lags in math, science, and technology, the ultimate goal for YES students and BGCS is to exceed national norms. Through YES, BGCS teachers offer an after-school science club, which provides unique exposure to science beyond the traditional curriculum.
The YES Program offers innovative ideas and technology, piquing the interest of YES students in a fun and engaging way. BGCS provides full access to classrooms for YES tutoring and mentoring, in addition to the gymnasium for fitness programming. YES after-school activities are offered five days per week for 2.5 hours per afternoon. By increasing physical activity and self-confidence, YES students increase self-efficacy that translates to better academic performance and decreases risky behaviors. A five-week, summer academic program for students in grades K5-8 strengthens academic performance in reading, writing, science, and mathematics. YES offers its summer program, a required YEP element, from 12-4PM, including recreational activities, fitness, science club, mentorship, and tutorials primarily directed by Marquette undergraduate students.
A youth center is required of all YEP grantees. The UCC Youth Center is open weekdays from 3-8PM and for special events on weekends, serving as a safe haven for Hispanic youth, ages 7-19. The Youth Center provides academic support, in addition to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse programs for YES students. In the UCC Fitness Center, the YES parents and their families are provided fitness classes and club memberships. Several YES students have effectively encouraged their parents to attend the Fitness Center as a family — a critical step in changing family behaviors. Both centers employ experienced staff who work with at-risk youth populations.
An important component of the YES Program is cultural enrichment provided by Latino Arts. Based in Milwaukee on the UCC campus, Latino Arts is a separate non-profit organization, which provides visual and performing arts programming for YES students and the Hispanic community. YES students participate in many cultural Latino Arts offerings, like the Strings Program, which was one of 19 recipients of the 2008 Coming Up Taller award, presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The Strings Program is a music education program for BGCS students, who learn classical music skills, while incorporating Latino music. Participants in the Strings Program have demonstrated an increase in self-confidence, cultural identity, discipline, and focus that transcends the musical instruction, ultimately benefitting their academic performance. “Latino Arts broadens student perspective and horizons,” says Mr. Diaz. “It helps them to function in the larger society.”
The UCC’s rich connections in Milwaukee’s business community benefit YES students. Business leaders serve as UCC Board members, who both challenge and motivate UCC staff. The business community also volunteers at the UCC on behalf of youth programs, and raises money, not only for capital campaigns, but also to develop scholarships for BGCS and YES students. The Milwaukee business community as a whole staffs a Career Fair, where more than 50 businesses provide career exploration to YES middle school students. Many businesses provide role models and career exposure during the YES summer program with visits, tours, or professional development presentations. Exposing YES students to career options outside their current scope of experience is an important service provided by the Milwaukee business community.