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University of the Pacific outreach prepares K-12 students for college success

Grants, charter school and other programs fulfill Pacific’s mission of service to California
Aug 27, 2015

Jennifer Ellis was able to welcome her second-graders back to school this year with some new math and science projects, including a spinning robot made from a paper cup and a very messy recipe for veggie burgers.

Ellis, who teaches at Don Riggio Elementary School in Stockton, learned these and other new ideas during summer professional development classes offered by University of the Pacific through a $1.8 million grant from the California Mathematics and Science Partnership, a program of the California Department of Education.

The training reflects Pacific's generations-long commitment to improve the well-being of the communities it serves by supporting public schools and inspiring young people to go to college.

At the university's Stockton campus, Pacific professors are administering millions of dollars in grants this year designed to boost student success in regional K-12 school districts. In Sacramento, the university's law and education schools are operating a charter high school that prepares underserved students for legal careers. And at Pacific's San Francisco campus, the dental school brings in junior high and high school students from throughout Northern California to an annual "dental camp" where they can explore careers in dentistry and oral health.

"The University of the Pacific is one of our most significant partners in our effort to provide the best education possible to our nearly 40,000 students," said Stockton Unified School District Superintendent Julie Penn. "UOP students and staff have reached out to us with college admissions outreach, top-notch tutoring, terrific support for attendance, literacy programs and participation in community. The relationship has proven a truly valued experience for our district and, most importantly, for our students."

Pacific students benefit, too. The outreach creates research opportunities and hands-on learning experiences for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

The training Ellis received at Pacific this summer was made possible by a grant awarded to Christopher Goff, a professor of math at the university, in partnership with Lincoln Unified School District and the Teachers' College of San Joaquin. Goff's grant will support three years of training for more than 65 K-8 teachers.

"We learned so many interesting ways of developing lessons, like calculating the carbon footprint of different foods," Ellis said. "Kids are going to love these projects, and I think we'll see a corresponding increase in math and science achievement across the school."

Supporting STEM, first-generation college-goers and college readiness
Another Pacific math professor, Dennis Parker, has been the principal investigator on $7.5 million in grants benefitting San Joaquin County schools over the past 13 years. The funding from the California Department of Education has focused on improving math and science achievement among K-12 students by enhancing teachers' skills.

"It's all too easy for teachers, including professors, to develop a comfortable teaching routine and switch onto autopilot during instruction," Parker said. "Well-designed professional development gives teachers opportunities to interact with other teachers, observe how others teach, and challenge their own assumptions about various ways to design instruction."

Ronald Hallett, an associate professor of education at Pacific, has partnered with Stockton-area school districts to design and test programs that empower parents who have not been to college to talk with their children about higher education.

Robin McCracken, a doctoral student in Pacific's educational administration and leadership program, recently coordinated a successful application for a three-year, $37,500 grant for college-readiness programs at Stockton's Ronald E. McNair High School. Only 17 schools nationally were selected to receive one of the grants from College for Every Student, an organization that helps underserved students get to and through college. McCracken's was the only grant in California.

Supporting early literacy
Pacific's Beyond Our Gates initiative homes in on early literacy in the San Joaquin Valley with programs that include a collaboration with public schools to develop and distribute summer-learning guides for local families and a campaign to train parents and caregivers to cultivate their babies' and toddlers' preliteracy skills. Beyond Our Gates also issues an annual "literacy report card" for the region as a way to measure and encourage progress.

Other examples abound. Pacific physics Professor Jim Hetrick teaches summer science education classes through the County Office of Education. Ruth Brittin, a professor of music education, helped develop Harmony Stockton, a partnership between the university and the Stockton Symphony to provide intensive after-school music education for third through sixth graders at Stockton's Marshall Elementary School. And aspiring teachers at Pacific's Benerd School of Education offer Book Buddies, providing one-on-one help to 25 young readers a week; an annual Math Steeplechase, which engages more than 1,000 fourth and fifth graders in math challenges every year; and Tomorrow Project, which provides summer and after-school programs for about 1,000 K-12 students annually.

"For many of these students, having a vision of themselves going to college has to start with just picturing what a university is," Brittin said.  "Pacific's programs in the community help provide that vision."

About University of the Pacific
Established in 1851 as the first chartered institution of higher education in California, University of the Pacific prepares students for professional and personal Success through rigorous academics, small classes, and a supportive and engaging culture. Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful private university campuses in the West, the Stockton campus offers more than 80 majors in seven schools. The university's distinctive Northern California footprint also includes a campus in San Francisco, home to the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and new graduate programs in health, food and technology fields, and in Sacramento, home to the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and new graduate programs in health, education, business and public policy. For more information, visit

Media contact: Claudia Morain | 209.946.2313 (office) | 209.497.9894 (cell) |

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