HU Offers New Reading Accelerated Program: Leveo Sanchez Summer Institute
Incoming freshmen from New Mexico and surrounding states are on the New Mexico Highlands University campus this summer to get a head start on college success though the new Reading Accelerated Program: Leveo Sanchez Summer Institute.
Sanchez, who serves on the university’s Board of Regents, made a donation of approximately $20,000 to fund the institute so students can participate for free in the rigorous four-week educational program aimed at improving academic reading and writing skills.
Another major goal of the university’s summer institute is to help prepare students for college life, including building study habits, organizational skills, and independent living skills.
The 20 students live in a university residence hall under supervision, attend intensive classes all day Monday — Friday, study, take tests, and meet with faculty across all academic disciplines.
Outside the classroom, the students get outdoors on the weekends through field trips to nearby places like the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge and Wind River Ranch.
“It’s very clear that, nationwide, lack of reading and writing ability is related to school drop-out rates at both the high school and college levels,” Sanchez said. “I’ve always felt that a summer institute would give incoming freshmen a head start in reading and writing.
“If we’re successful, and I think we will be, the students will be more effective in the classes they take at Highlands in the fall. This is a very worthwhile investment. Going forward, our country depends on the preparation of our youth,” Sanchez said.
The students are receiving intensive reading instruction in the context of four areas: humanities, social and behavioral sciences, natural and physical sciences, and health sciences.
Highlands University cognitive psychology professor Maura Pilotti is coordinating the summer institute. She said Sanchez provided valuable input during the program planning process.
“Another important component of this model program is to convey to the students that they are important to us, and we are here to support their aspirations and dreams,” Pilotti said. “One of the advantages of the program is that with the help of faculty, it gives the students a chance to explore possibilities for majors.”
Trinity Largie, 18, is a student in the Reading Accelerated Program. She’s from Naschitti, N.M., part of the Navajo Nation.
“You can tell that the professors care and are willing to help you be a better student,” Largie said. “Everyone is so helpful and I feel like it’s a safe learning environment. It was great that the program paid for everything, even the dorms. They also helped me with financial aid and getting registered for my fall classes.”
Highlands University English instructor Stephen Weatherburn is the instructional leader for the summer institute, with assistance from English instructor Ben Villarreal.
Four Highlands’ graduate teaching assistants are also working in the various content areas, including Tyler Broderick, Daniel Delgado, Susan Kirby, and Jennifer Runnels.
“We’re lucky to have such an interesting, positive, creative group of young students participating in this program,” Weatherburn said. “They’re doing extremely well in an intensive eight-hour-a-day learning environment. They’re willing to work hard, experiment with ideas, and learn.”
Kurvin Aguilar, who is on campus for the program, is an 18 year old from the Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico.
“The program has helped me be a stronger reader, and it’s also helping me experience college life,” said Aguilar, who plans to study forestry at Highlands.
Pilotti, whose expertise is in the study of learning and memory, is collecting data from the summer institute that will gauge its effectiveness. The data will also be used for grants Pilotti will write to seek future funding for the program.
Sanchez said he’d like to see the Reading Assistance Program expand and become part of the Highlands University curriculum.
A successful business leader and Highlands University graduate, Sanchez is known for his generous gifts to the university.
Since the 1980s, he has funded numerous scholarships for Highlands University students as well as new educational initiatives like the $50,000 donation he made in 2010 to the School of Education’s first Middle Level Institute.
Sanchez has also made donations to several Highlands University capital construction projects, including the historic Ilfeld Auditorium renovation.