EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – During SXSW.Edu in Austin, Texas, El Paso Community College (EPCC) professor of Educational Psychology, Dr. Christopher Kazanjian was awarded the Rather Prize which recognizes the best ideas to improve education in Texas.

Kazanjian was awarded the $10,000 prize to further his work with the local Kidz n’ Coaches program. This after-school program run by EPCC student and faculty volunteers who serve as coaches, will begin its operation at El Paso Independent School District’s (EPISD) Western Hills Elementary this fall.  

This innovative program engages Latinx youth in educational and recreational activities, alongside their teachers and EPCC student volunteers, in order to support their social and emotional development.

“Kidz n Coaches” began in 1983 at a community college in Central New York by humanistic psychologist James D. Smrtic. EPCC began the local version of the program in 2015 which has resulted in lasting changes on the school and community. 

The goal is to connect elementary youth with college role models who will help them with social and emotional development as well as help youth see the benefits of going to college.

EPCC officials sharer that not only does the program help the elementary students who are served, it also provides an important hands-on learning opportunity for EPCC students.  Volunteers for the program are undergraduates at EPCC that are majoring in the fields of education, criminal justice, or psychology.

These students work as coaches developing and running interactive sessions for youth in the after-school program. This provides the EPCC students real-life training and career relevant experience which prepares them for their future jobs. 

“Volunteers learn leadership skills in planning and working with children that have life challenges by engaging with elementary youth who benefit from positive role models,” Kazanjian said. “The Kidz n’ Coaches program has resulted in higher academic performance and personal growth for both the EPCC student volunteers and the elementary school participants.”

This program is another example of the innovative learning experiences available to EPCC students and the ongoing impact the college has on the community. Students enrolled in EPCC’s 145 programs of study have the opportunity to work directly with highly-qualified faculty who are leaders in their respective fields.  

“Graduates from EPCC are competitive and prepared for their careers based on the learning that takes place both inside and outside of the classroom,” Keri Moe, Associate Vice President of External Relations, Communication and Development said.

Submissions for the Rather Prize are competitively selected and scored through a rigorous evaluation process by the University of Texas at Austin’s African and African Diaspora department under the direction of Dr. Kevin Foster and the Rather Prize staff and volunteers.

The Rather Prize was developed in 2016 by Rice University student Martin Rather and his grandfather, journalist Dan Rather. Dan Rather, host of The Big Interview, is a native of Wharton, Texas and the son of an oil pipeline worker. Texas has always been his home. Before becoming one of television’s most notable journalists and news anchors, he received his entire education through Texas public schools. Dan Rather is honored to have the opportunity to give back to his home state. 

For more about the Rather Prize, click here

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