UT students, faculty, and staff volunteer to help UACS children succeed in academics, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking. Program activities include physical education, gardening, music, theater, and art.
Bob Kronick is a professor of educational psychology and counseling in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and director of the UACS. He founded the program as an early intervention tool for at-risk youth.
“I came up with the idea through my work in corrections and mental health. I knew prevention was critically important and a school seemed like the best place to offer them the services they needed in a nurturing environment,” he says.
More than 100 UT students volunteer at UACS schools each semester. Kronick matches them to programs based on their interests.
David Marsh is an undergraduate engineering student who volunteers at Pond Gap Elementary teaching LEGO robotics.
“Leading a LEGO robotics club has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate education,” Marsh says. “It has helped me discover my passion for mentorship, extended my patience, and—especially when a student experiences an ‘aha’ moment—brought me joy. I can sense the impact that Dr. Kronick’s community schools model has on its students and the school environment.”
Kronick says when you have a vibrant school, you have a vibrant community.
“We’re seeing more people wanting to move to these areas because of the positive changes they’re seeing at the school.”
Believing that children are our most important resource, Kronick’s ultimate goal is to establish a center for the University-Assisted Community Schools.
“Our mission is to create challenging learning opportunities for students by providing them a nurturing environment supported by the family, community, staff, and students,” Kronick says. “It’s all about the kids.”
Although Kronick doesn’t do this work for accolades, his honors include being named a Knox County Schools visionary in 2016 and receiving UT’s Excellence in Academic Outreach Award in 2017. The Carnegie Advisory Committee selected his program as one of 50 exemplary partnerships in 2015.
Kronick has secured more than $1.5 million in grant funding to develop and maintain the program. Only about a half-dozen universities in the United States have a program like UACS.
“When I dreamed this idea up, all I wanted was to improve the lives of little ones,” he says. “My father was a business man, but always gave back to the community. Giving back to these kids is in my DNA.”
This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.