Athens Review, Athens, Texas

August 16, 2013

Athens woman gets state academic honor

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Angela Lassiter lives in Athens, but has a big impact on the lives of students in Fruitvale, 35 miles away, through a revolutionary after-school program.

Lassiter is an educational leader and program administrator with the STEM and Ingenuity Center at the University of Texas at Tyler. For her leadership in the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Center’s grant program, Lassiter was recently named Top Site Coordinator in Texas for Cycle 7 grantees. Texas ACE, affiliated with the Texas Education Agency, manages the program within the state.

The project is possible through an $8.75 million grant awarded to The University of Texas at Tyler Ingenuity Center by the Texas Education Agency.

“We basically take what we’ve learned about our grant and start implementing programs at the schools,” Lassiter said. “It benefits the school immensely,”

Lassiter became site director for the program at the Fruitvale Independent School District, one of four in East Texas to take part in the initiative.  The goal was to improve academics, increased promotion rates, and improved graduation rates, attendance and student behavior.

Lassiter has been in education for nine years. She was named “Teacher of the Year” in the Cross Roads Independent School District three times before moving to UT Tyler. She’s on the Fruitvale campus four days a week, then tends to duties at UT Tyler on Fridays. She will spare no effort in getting the Fruitvale students what they need for the program to succeed.

“Basically, the way I run my program is, if the students want it and I can find a teacher to teach it, then we have it,” Lassiter said. “The students aren’t charged anything for the materials they need to participate in the program. We also make sure that the student gets free snacks and transportation home on a bus, after hours if they need that.”

One objective of the project is to identify the factors that cause poor attendance.

“We try to encourage the student to enjoy the environment,” Lassiter said. “We bring in a lot of activities. Of course, if a person isn’t there at school, they can’t participate in after-school that day.”

The student who stays home may miss out on one of his favorite activities, like pastry design, cooking or soccer.

“We have data that supports an increased attendance on a given day based on the student knowing they’re going to miss their soccer class if they don’t make it to class that day,” Lassiter said. 

At a time when Texas school districts have seen cuts in their funding, the grant money has helped restore some of the activities that have seen reductions.

Lassiter said she increases family involvement in the students by putting on a student showcase every six weeks, where projects involving the students are displayed for the parents to see. Family-game night was extremely successful,” Lassiter said.

“We have a learning games class,” Lassiter said. “One night, after school, we had a family game night, where the students got to show their parents what they’d learned.”

The families gathered around tables for an hour and were fed enchiladas created by the cooking class, Lassiter said.

“One of the most profound statements was by a parent who said, ‘This is wonderful, to be at the school and I’m not having a parent-teacher conference.’”