1-SMILE has high expectations
SMILE focuses on underrepresented and other educationally underserved students. These students often have little, if any, family background in higher education and face low expectations for their academic success and other barriers to college entry. We let them know from the day they join a SMILE club that they are future college students. We ground our interactions with students on the belief that they are capable of academic achievement. We provide long-term, meaningful and engaging science and math enrichment, with college enrollment as a clear goal.
2-SMILE focuses on science and mathematics
Science and math are the traditional gatekeepers to higher education for minority and other educationally disadvantaged students. SMILE uses a problem-based learning framework for its annual college-connection activities at all levels. Activities focus on engaged learning through a meaningful context, integrating science and math concepts, and infusing technology throughout. The positive impact of teaching mathematics and science in context is well documented and supported. Integral to this approach is the interaction of students with practicing scientists and mentors throughout all phases of a given project. Students also learn about career opportunities from the scientists and other mentors.
3-SMILE provides a continuity of enrichment experiences
SMILE Clubs meet weekly throughout the school year for integrated math and science activities designed to build a cohort of interested and excited students. Each club accommodates about 20 students and is facilitated by two of the school’s teachers. Clubs also take several field trips per year and attend the SMILE Program’s annual special events.
Early intervention is key to students’ success and provides the rationale for SMILE programming to start in the fourth grade. Student involvement may continue through 12th grade. By maintaining the continuity of students’ exposure to and support for learning science and math we are creating a clear pathway to higher education for motivated and prepared students.
4-SMILE engages students in active learning through a meaningful context
At an annual camp experience, elementary students learn to do field-based scientific research. A variety of activities teach them to use scientific tools to collect data, to evaluate data, and to choose tools and methods to use at their final project study site. They use these skills to gather information and present the results of their work to the group.
5-SMILE Clubs have a strong connection with URI
Students come to campus for more than a tour; they actually participate in science and math activities on campus. They meet and work with college faculty and students. Teachers tell us that these on-campus events are the most influential factors in motivating their students to prepare for higher education. Program staff also visits each community several times per year – bringing URI to the school and community. The highlights of these visits are Family Science Nights involving the local clubs, community and URI faculty.
6-SMILE emphasizes teamwork and collaboration
Teachers establish a supportive, club environment. The activities during club time are ones that promote gender equity and are culturally appropriate. Good behavior is required, improved self-esteem and enhanced self-confidence are emphasized, and promoting the resiliency of students remains an important aim. SMILE students are motivated to work hard and to develop their skills and talents and explore their interests. They participate on teams and learn that it is OK and fun to be smart. We involve family and community, use positive adult role models from the community and provide a connection to school that is both social and academic.
7-SMILE values the commitment of the teachers who serve as club advisors
SMILE teachers receive a stipend and a club budget and are supported academically with curriculum and through professional development. Teachers attend about seven days of workshops per year where they engage in the learning experiences they are expected to deliver to the students in the SMILE clubs, along with the necessary materials. In addition, during the workshops teachers share curriculum ideas, plan for the year, learn how to prepare the students for the upcoming college-connection events and renew their own wonderment in learning.