Joshua McCoy likes to work with his hands and plans to major in mechanical engineering in college. JaRon Lee plays the saxophone and is pondering a career in law, inspired by relatives in the profession.
The electric guitar is Freddie Calaoagan’s instrument of choice, and he considers science and math his strongest subjects.
All three are freshmen in Wichita high schools and they spend Monday through Thursday together at Wichita State University as part of the Better Academics and Social Excellence (BAASE) Learning Lounge.
“It gives us the college experience,” McCoy said. “We’re in more of a learning environment, and we motivate each other. We make each other better around this learning environment.”
BAASE started in 2018, and the partnership between Wichita Public Schools and Wichita State began in fall 2019 with the goal of creating a “stronger system of support for African American and Hispanic students who want to pursue post-secondary education.” Participants must have a 3.2 grade-point average or better.
“The program, overall, is aimed at identifying our young men of color that have shown positive academic identities in middle school, and then capturing those young men and keeping those positive academic identities intact as they go through high school,” said William Polite, director of equity, diversity and accountability for Wichita Public Schools. “We lose far too many of them to different things as they get older.”
This fall, 34 of those students are doing their high school remote learning in WSU’s Rhatigan Student Center.
“I like it because we can explore WSU,” Lee said. “It helps us prepare for college.”
In addition to remote learning, the students use their Shocker cards to eat in Shocker Hall, exercise in the Heskett Center and use Ablah Library. They can use practice rooms in the College of Fine Arts for music and work with online tutoring support from the College of Engineering.
“It’s been really cool to see them on campus and feeling like this is their space – Wichita State has not always had a history or a reputation, particularly in the African American community, for being an open space,” said Kaye Monk-Morgan, Wichita State interim vice president for regional engagement and economic development. “We’re actively working to change that. Parents are dropping their kids off for school on campus every day.”
Director of equity, diversity and accountability for Wichita Public Schools
Polite said this fall’s remote learning on campus works toward two goals. First, it puts the students in a good atmosphere for school. Second, it helps them see college as part of their future.
“It brought them out of isolation, but not just to any place,” he said. “It brought them to Wichita State’s campus.”
That sense of exploration is appealing to the students. They play basketball or lift weights in the Heskett Center. They study. They eat at Shocker Hall and learn from the Chartwells chefs for those in culinary arts. Heskett Center’s Esports Hub is a popular destination.
“It’s like being an actual student,” Lee said.
McCoy, who attends Northeast Magnet High School, calls the RSC a calm place to learn.
“My house is pretty good, too, but this is more like a learning energy environment,” he said. “Someday, we all have to go college, and I feel like I’m getting more prepared and I’ll already be ready to go to college.”
Lee’s recent assignments from Northeast Magnet include a social studies project on “Age of Exploration” that focus on explorer Sir Francis Drake and a project examining the life and works of Shakespeare. His family role models are leading him to the law as a possible career.
“My cousin is a lawyer,” he said. “My aunt is a judge. They really wanted me to do that. I would love to do sports, but if that turns down, I can do engineering or law.”
Calaoagan, who attends Northwest High School, enjoys his geometry class and wants to start a band.
“Being around kids is really nice, and seeing other people is fun,” he said. “It’s really nice because we get the experience of being on this campus, and it’s all very beautiful. And we get to eat.”