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Justice Friday looks at CAT program

| Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saint Mary’s students and staff gathered in the student center Friday to discuss the College Academy of Tutoring (CAT) program’s impact on Title One schools in the South Bend Community School Corporation as part of the Justice Fridays lecture series.

Samira Payne, associate director of the Office of Civil and Social Engagement and director of CAT, led the discussion and prompted students with questions such as: “Did you feel like you had a teacher you could reach out to,” “Did you feel like school was a safe place for you?” and “How do you think poverty affects students?”

“The CAT Program works with three particular schools in the South Bend area,” Payne said. “They’re actually primary and intermediate centers.”

Title I schools have high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families, according to the U.S. Department of Education website, so they receive federal financial assistance to help the students meet state academic standards.

According a worksheet given to students in attendance, 49.3 percent of students in the state of Indiana are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

“Poverty is very cyclical. What is the number one way society tells you to improve your life?” Payne said. “They always say go to school, get a job so that you can improve your life, but if you are in a school, and this is your circumstance, how can you do that?

“How can we task a third grader, a nine-year-old, to be doing this? They’re nine. This is not their responsibility. Our system is failing these students.”

Although test scores are not the only indicator on the progress of students, Payne said those results still tell a story.

“Graduation rates are lower, and that’s pretty significant,” she said. “It really impacts their experience.”

Payne said volunteering with CAT gives [college] students an opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone, while also building skills working with students in South Bend schools.

“It’s really important that we recognize it’s not necessarily that these student aren’t smart, but that they don’t necessarily have the same set of resources, and they haven’t yet found a person, or there isn’t that person in their lives who really is helping them to grow and learn and to build on those skills,” Payne said. “And so it’s really important that we start to recognize that, and when we’re working with students, it’s not that we see it as a fault within our students but that we see it as a fault within our system and what can we do to support our students.”

Payne said CAT gives students in South Bend schools an opportunity to get a glimpse at college life and speak to college students.

“That gives them that really cool opportunity to ask questions and dream bigger and really open their minds to [college],” Payne said. “It’s a really cool opportunity for everyone involved.”

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