Miya King remembers a time years ago when two tiny, wide-eyed faces at Sidney Lanier School stared up at her as she read them a story.
For King, the operations and communications coordinator for the Budd Center at Southern Methodist University, the little faces remind her why she does her job.
“Meeting the children in our community stirs your soul,” King said.
The Budd Center at SMU helps West Dallas students living in poverty reach their academic goals by pairing nonprofits and West Dallas schools to provide vital resources like books, tutoring and workshops in science and technology. The Center also seeks ways to help teachers and principals create less stressful environments for students.
The Budd Center, which opened in 2007, is the leading partner in The School Zone, an initiative comprised of 29 nonprofits and 16 West Dallas schools.
The School Zone identifies the needs of students during their early years. Since 2007, The School Zone’s initial focus was the Pinkston High School feeder pattern in West Dallas. The graduation rate at the school has almost doubled since 2010.
King, who has watched the program grow over the years, shares the vision that West Dallas will become a thriving community where families, schools and businesses have the resources they need to fulfill their potential.
“In five years I see The School Zone model replicated successfully in several other feeder programs,” King said.
In a large conference room with two whiteboard walls, Regina Nippert, executive director of the Budd Center, talked about her vision for the center as an opportunity for not only projects like community gardens or helping school children, but also as a place for high-end research.
“To understand a community and what will be affective in that area, you have to be open to being changed by that community as well,” Nippert said.
SMU students are also involved, giving tours to the West Dallas students who visit SMU and sharing their stories of how they got to college and what campus life is like. More than 250 SMU students signed up to help in just the first year and a half, said Erin Crosby, director of operations and communications for the Budd Center.
“The only difference between our West Dallas students and students from more affluent communities is the zip code and therefore access to a high quality education,” Crosby said.
In early November, the Budd Center partnered with Morrison-McGinnis Residential Commons for “A Day in the Life of a College Student.” SMU students could sign up to help give tours and answer questions about campus life. The Budd Center staff wants to get West Dallas students excited about going to college, while getting SMU students involved in the greater Dallas community.
SMU freshman Emma Roquemore was a volunteer. She told a group of junior high students about leaving home for the first time and what college life is like.
“It felt great to give back to the community through the Budd Center, and I look forward to working with them in the future,” she said.
Residential Community Director Katie Little said Morrison-McGinnis and the Budd Center hosted 120 middle school students on the tour, which included stops in dorms, Hughes-Trigg Student Center and classrooms.
Anthony Sparks, a Ph.D. candidate in the Simmons School of Education, talks with principals to get data on how to prevent low income students from dropping out of school and how stress affects their academic life.
Not having the resources to even do homework outside of the classroom affects students’ ability to achieve academically. Ph.D. students like Sparks interpret data they collect to help the Budd Center form programs to help students have access to opportunities that will bring them out of poverty.
“One principal said students are realizing that some students have more than them, and that stuck with me,” Sparks said.
Crosby wants the Budd Center to be a model for community, school and university collaborations that help change the trajectory of students’ lives.
“I hope our work ensures that students can stay on track academically from year to year.” Crosby said.