Grand Canyon University Learning Lounge, SIS Scholarship Program Put Elementary, High School Students on the Road to Success

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Joseph Veres

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Grand Canyon University believes that every high school student deserves the chance to go to college. Unfortunately, for some underperforming youth at Alhambra High School, the prospect of earning a degree seemed virtually impossible. Alhambra High is home to 2,800 ninth-through 12th-graders, 90 percent of whom fall below the federal poverty line.

It is with these students in mind that GCU and its partners at Phoenix Union High School piloted the Learning Lounge in 2012.

The Learning Lounge is a free, on-campus, after-school tutoring and mentoring program that helps underperforming students raise their grades in reading, math and other core areas of study, as well as assist high-achieving students prepare for college-level courses.

GCU student tutors work with students who visit the center up to five times per week, and tutoring is supplemented with professional development for participating high school teachers.

Tutoring is not a novel idea. What makes the Learning Lounge distinct is that it is housed on a university campus, where many inner-city kids never dreamed of setting foot; tutoring is provided by GCU students, many of whom have been in these kids’ shoes and are hungry to give back; business and philanthropic leaders embrace the program by donating funds for full-tuition scholarships to students who seek to improve academically; and there is a pay-it-forward aspect in which scholarship recipients serve as tutors to help the next generation of students behind them.

Response to the program has been remarkable, and it proves that for students with a desire to learn, anything is possible. To say that tutoring and mentoring through the Learning Lounge has gained in popularity is an understatement. Fast-forward five years and more than 1,200 GCU students serve high school (and even some middle school) students from 80 Valley schools. The success of Learning Lounge has been nothing short of remarkable and the program is now a model for other universities to follow.

As part of the program, GCU also established the Students Inspiring Students Scholarship program, which awards 100 full-tuition scholarships each year to high school seniors who have sought assistance at the Learning Lounge, and meet academic and eligibility criteria. GCU matches all donations with institutional scholarships above and beyond what students currently receive. In return, SIS scholarship recipients lend 100 hours per year in mentoring and academic support at a Learning Lounge site to assist the next group of high school students behind them. The result is a self-funded, sustainable and scalable program that requires no government intervention or tax increases.

Earlier this year, GCU also jumped at the chance to make a difference in the struggling Murphy School District. GCU’s work at Murphy began last fall when a determined group of College of Education students spent three days a week at Garcia Elementary School helping to teach kindergarten through third-grade math, social studies, science and art. The 15-week program gave the Lopes’ aspiring teachers a deep understanding of teaching methods and a unique learning opportunity to create new possibilities inside and outside the classroom while working collaboratively in groups.

The next phase of the GCU-Murphy partnership involved college students working with 10 children apiece after school in a setup similar to the University’s Learning Lounge. Through a partnership with St. Mary’s Food Bank, GCU also provided a hot meal, just as it does when area students come to campus for help in the Lounge.

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