MAPS: Perceptions of a Successful Student

I met our guest blogger, Dr. Sarai Koo, at a conference this past spring. Immediately, I was impressed with her passion and commitment to helping students succeed in achieving their personal and academic goals. I was intrigued by her program, MAPS 4 College based in California, and invited her to contribute a post to our blog.

One of the objectives of the Supporting Student Success research blog is to facilitate learning and sharing among educators. I would like to thank Dr. Koo for sharing the wonderful work that she continues to do and invite you to comment and share what from her work resonates with what you are doing to support student success.

MAPS: Perception of a Successful Student By Dr. Sarai Koo

I met a young man many years ago under dire circumstances.  He was fifteen, homeless and hungry.  The moment I met him, I knew that countless people that came in and out of his life had resulted in disappointment.  I was acutely aware of his lackluster for life.  He was closed off and distant. In that moment, I made the decision to be the very best for him so that I wouldn’t have to be another notch on his disappointment rack.

NyNy was struggling in school academically.  He had a hard time learning, staying focused, and attending school regularly.  Not only was he a racialized visible minority, but he also had a learning and physical disability.  Life had presented many challenges for him and up until I met him, he suffered greatly. I knew that without a catalyst to redirect his life, he would have potentially been a high school dropout and living on the streets.  Under these circumstances, I made the conscious decision to help him redirect his path from hopelessness to hopefulness. Through weekly meetings, I advised him and made sure that he knew someone cared and valued him. I made sure he was fed and had school supplies and clothes if needed.  I became his mentor and advisor.  He found his strength through support and learned to trust again.  As a result, within one semester, his grades improved from C’s, D’s, and F’s to all A’s and B’s.  He graduated from high school.

It’s been eight years since the day I met him. We are still in contact. He is currently in college and mentoring other students.  He is continuing to pay it forward, “You helped me and I want to help others.”  NyNy is a successful student and he is the main reason why MAPS 4 College came to fruition.

What is a successful student?  According to MAPS 4 College, successful students persist in and through college but also strive to live a quality life.  I define quality of life as students who are confident, resourceful, and pro-active. A successful student gains knowledge through academia and life, attains necessary skills needed that aligns with their passion.  This idea is based on the SPICES Theory and Framework™.

SPICES Theory and Framework™ integrates the mental, the emotional, and the physical as a harmonious conduit to live a quality life.  It is the ethos and pathos of helping people become balanced and restored on issues of self, life, and others.  SPICES provides skills, techniques, self-reflection, visualization, and various exercises for people to redirect how they see themselves, others, and life.  As a result, people find peace, joy, and compassion. They become less anxious, stressed, angry, jealous, bitter, depressed, frustrated, impatient, etc.

MAPS Approach and Framework

MAPS prepares young people (mostly at-risk/high-risk, low-income, racialized visible minority youth) to become successful adults.  Youth are not only provided with educational and college readiness services, MAPS integrates the human development, student success, workforce preparation, and life preparation strategies into one program.  MAPS is the conduit that bridges the social-emotional learning (affective), academic learning (cognitive), and other human components so they become successful in school, college, and life. It is a holistic program.

MAPS overarching holistic program is called the College Preparatory Leadership and Mentoring Program™, which embeds the SPICES Theory and Framework™. The CPLMP program encompasses six components that prepare students to become successful in school, college, and life.

circle # 1

The CPLMP is based on three levels: individual, community, and societal.  On the individual level, students receive comprehensive services to be prepared for college.  Students participate in a cost-effective, highly valuable, peer-to-peer program designed to prepare students for a pre-postsecondary admissions test.  The program operates through a cohort system, in which high school students in the previous cohort serve as teachers, leaders, and mentors to succeeding cohorts.  As a result, low-income, minority students in the program increase their ACT scores by 12 points.  All students who participated and completed the program applied to four-year institutions and were accepted.

On a community level, students take two leadership programs that help them understand who they are, how the community influences them, and how their actions and the decisions they make change the community around them.  The first leadership program is discussion oriented and students learn about the perceived barriers they experience personally in their community.  The second program uses the Change MY LIFE curriculum™.  This program focuses on helping youth deal effectively with issues that affect their ability to have a positive outlook on life, to know their maximum potential, and possess their human value and significance.  The program provides skills, tools, and exercises for them to become cognizant of their past experiences and use it as a learning tool to move forward in life.  MAPS provides multiple views to approach their problems and techniques to overcome them.

Students have shared how they changed their outlook on life six months, one year, and two years after leaving the program. Below are some results from the Change MY LIFE Program™:






Gain teaching experience Increase motivation Become responsible
Increase test scores Become self-confident Become skilled before they go to college
Do better in their academic classes Become less angry, bitter, jealous, and envious Healthy students (some students who were sick became physiologically well)
Time-management Regulate stress and anxiety Have a purpose in life that reduces future worries
Pay attention to their teachers Stop depressing and suicidal thoughts Value and appreciate others
Became non-competitive and focused on what they needed to do in life Improve speaking and communication skills Become emphatic and compassionate towards everyone
Take responsibility for their own learning experience Avoid arguments and talk about their problems Balanced students who contribute to society in a positive manner

On a societal level, students take what they learn, create an action plan to address a particular educational issue, and host a city-wide event.  Students take a proactive role and launch a youth-led event in partnership with the city, elected officials, and other agencies to host events, such as the out-of-state college fair and teen summit.  Students have been responsible for recruiting volunteers, scheduling the dates and times with the venue and city, creating flyers and programs, writing press and media releases, contacting schools and agencies, determining the speakers and guest speaker, and much more.

As an approach to integrate all three levels and receive all components of the CPLMP program, students participate in a two-week Mountain Top College Prep Summer Bootcamp program (MT program).  At-risk, low-income, racialized visible minority students receive first hand guidance from admission counsellors from various universities.  In addition, educational consultants, other professionals, college students, and employees of elected officials provide in-kind services to students.

The results from the 2011 MT program demonstrated that 100% of the 2012 and 2013 classes (N = 40) who applied to 4-year colleges were accepted (one student applied directly to a community college).  These results indicated that 85% of the students matriculated to 4-year institutions throughout the nation and 15% enrolled in community colleges.  For 83% of the low-income, at-risk, first-generation racialized visible minority students (N = 47), MAPS was the only source from which they received support in getting ready for college.  Using pre and post-test evaluations and surveys, students indicated an overall high intrinsic motivation (strong interest in and enjoyment) of the MAPS program.

Since its inception, MAPS has helped students from different cultural backgrounds become prepared for college and life and build a “new” sense-of-community.  Students who have participated in the entire MAPS program were better able to cope with obstacles that affected their personal and educational lives.  MAPS have seen students change from a life of depression and hopelessness into a life where they were able to transcend adversity.  They learned self-reflective strategies to become aware of how their internal thoughts affected their external behaviors.  They gained tools to regulate their emotions, and they learned to take responsibility for their behaviors and actions.  They improved their academic performance, contributed to their community, , and developed more compassion.  They were less self-conscious, allowing their desire to pursue their goals in better state of mind.  Most importantly, they discovered their self-worth and potential.  They are successful students.

Guest writer: Sarai Koo, Ph.D.

She is the CEO and Founder of MAPS 4 College™ (MAPS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the United States that exists to provide comprehensive programs and services designed to help students develop necessary competencies to graduate from high school, succeed in college, excel professionally, and live a life with character and excellence. All program models were developed by Dr. Koo (CPLMP model/framework, SPICES theory and framework, Change MY LIFE program, ACT framework, and Mountain Top Summer Camp Program).

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