The REACH Program Is Ending, Having Accomplished Groundbreaking Work

A Message from Kathleen Plinske, President, Osceola, Lake Nona, and Poinciana Campuses

Summer 2019 will see the sunset of the beloved and inspiring REACH program. Although the program was originally designed to serve as a supportive learning community for students who placed into three areas of developmental education (reading, English and mathematics), the program inspired the creation of other cohort programs, including Camino a UCF and the Future Teachers Academy. Additionally, REACH influenced the Poinciana Campus course offering packages, because feedback from students is positive when they are given predictable schedules and when they can bond with each other while attending college. The program has demonstrated the effectiveness of cohorts and how students can support each other while they learn together.

In 2011, the Osceola Campus founded Reaching Every Academic Challenge Head-on (REACH) to address the challenges faced by three-prep students. The program was developed as a pilot from the College’s 2009 Developmental Education Initiative grant funded by Achieving the Dream. The goal of the program was to provide students a learning community of supportive faculty members while accelerating completion of required prep courses with the guarantee of earning 21 college credits during their first academic year.

Over 300 students have participated in the program, and 36 have graduated with a two-year degree with another four students completing a technical certificate. This success can be attributed to the program’s model, which included Learning in Community (LinC) courses, co-curricular activities focused on team building and effective communication, and field trips. REACH students have visited destinations such as the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg (Intro to Humanities and Math) and the Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Titusville (Environmental Biology and Math). These field trips were designed to enhance the students’ learning experiences across LinCed courses. REACH classes used the College’s LinC model, which pairs faculty members who teach different classes together where they can integrate lesson plans, share course syllabi and spend time together in each class. This allows faculty members the opportunity to partner in developing an interdisciplinary approach to courses, with combinations such as Student Success with Developmental Math and Introduction to Humanities with Intermediate Algebra. Students completed integrated assignments and benefited from enhanced engagement between faculty members and students. The model provided time for faculty members to spend in each other’s classes co-teaching content and demonstrating a team effort to support student learning.

Students who participated in the REACH program outperformed other three-prep developmental students in all academic indicators, including fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention, GPA, graduation rate and time to completion of 15 credits. For example, prior to Senate Bill 1720, the fall-to-spring retention rates for three-prep students was 66 percent in comparison to the REACH student cohorts of 85 percent  during the same time period. In 2013, the REACH student fall-to-spring retention rate reached a high at 95 percent.

Unfortunately, our ability to identify and recruit students into the program has been challenging since the passage of Senate Bill 1720. The numbers have declined to fewer than 20 students, which is the minimum number necessary to run a successful cohort. The REACH program served students well prior to Senate Bill 1720 and will be remembered as a successful model for supporting at-risk populations enrolled at the College.

One of the most remarkable successes of the program was how students bonded with each other. Focus-group sessions were hosted each year to collect data on the effectiveness of the program. Students reported the REACH program created a family of learners who supported each other. During one focus-group session, a student described how another student assumed the role of the class “dad” and reminded students they needed to study harder or get to class on time. Another student, in the same cohort, was described as the “mom” of the class who made sure other students were cared for, to the extent that she brought snacks to class and checked on students’ well-being.

Additionally, the REACH program has served as reminder of how extraordinary our students are when faced with obstacles. REACH students such as Alex Castro, who rode public transportation three hours, one-way to campus, each day, to earn her Associate in Arts degree, and Rafael Bautista, the fabled student who walked from Poinciana to the Osceola Campus to hand in his financial aid paperwork before the payment deadline, remind us how resilient students can be when they are supported. Both Alex and Rafael participated in the REACH program.

While the REACH program will come to an end in summer 2019, the program will have a lasting impact on how we think of student engagement and approach co-curricular development and learning communities such as cohorts. Future programs will likely bear a resemblance to REACH, incorporating innovative ideas and lessons learned.

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