Wonder Powers, ACTivate: Beyond School Bells, UNL Honors, and Partners Create Test Prep for Low-Income Students 

ACTivate pairs UNL Honors students as college-readiness mentors for GIPS students. The program provides test-prep for lower-income youth and the support they need to feel college-ready. At this point, GIPS is piloting ACTivate, but there’s more to come on the horizon.  

UNL Honors students and Beyond School Bells are a formidable team! Together, they ACTIVATE with college-readiness programs for lower-income high school students.
UNL Honors students and Beyond School Bells are a formidable team! Together, they ACTIVATE with college-readiness programs for lower-income high school students.

Beyond School Bells (BSB) and UNL design studios created ACTivate. During these sessions, teams of UNL students had the chance to show off their test-prep and curriculum-building skills. The whole time, the students embarked on a challenge to make the activities fun. The Design Intensives are rigorous sessions where college students brainstorm and challenge one another to create compelling lessons, including ACT prep. 

The power of collaboration: UNL Honors student, Sejal Soni, (middle) poses with her elementary-age afterschool students. Sejal has also worked as an ACTivate mentor for GIPS students.
The power of collaboration: UNL Honors student, Sejal Soni, (middle) poses with her elementary-age afterschool students. Sejal has also worked as an ACTivate mentor for GIPS students.

Shannon Mangram, UNL Honors Program Coordinator, said that ACTivate was the brainchild co-created by On To College, Beyond School Bells, UNL Admissions, and UNL Honors. 

“[ACTivate] is a fun, competitive college-success prep experience,” said Shannon. Shannon said that the program contains ACT lessons and activities in conjunction with presenting the college-ready mindset, thinking, and planning. 

She said that the program’s success has been a group effort, and Beyond School Bells was instrumental. “We had the Design Intensive funded by BSB,” she said.  

Shannon said that the students blended work and play. “The UNL students created a game – how to make ACT prep fun,” she said.  

Meanwhile, test prep veteran John Baylor from OnToCollege participated as a consultant for the program. 

Shannon collaborated with Max Cuppens and Sandy Day from Beyond School Bells to pilot ACTivate for GIPs juniors over the summer. Her response was enthusiastic.  

“Wow. [ACTivate] was a learning experience, but such a good one,” said Shannon. She said that GIPs students reacted positively to the program as well. 

Although creating the curriculum during a pandemic wasn't always easier, Salman Djingueinabaye, a UNL Honors student and computer science major, still found the project rewarding.
Although creating the curriculum during a pandemic wasn’t always easier, Salman Djingueinabaye, a UNL Honors student and computer science major, still found the project rewarding.

“GIPS students said, ‘I’m so glad I participated in this. I have a lot more confidence,’” she said. “That’s a big part of this. [Students], especially low-income students, need confidence for the future. Then they can be self-starters,” she said. 

Shannon said that financial college assistance opportunities are linked to ACT performance, so standardized test prep is important for lower-income students. Shannon said that in addition to providing these benefits for GIPS juniors, the UNL Honors students also reaped rewards. 

“A big thing was coming up with a cool prize as an incentive for [UNL Honors] students to compete for,” said Shannon about the Design Intensives.  

As of now, participating students receive points for completing the Intensive. The team with the most points received a prize. 

Shannon said there are plans for ACTivate’s future. UNL Honors will highlight another form of ACTivate mentorship this month, which may include the Nebraska Preparatory Academy’s Winnebago Scholars students. 

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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