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Grand Canyon University’s Learning Lounge

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What happens when you put inner city high school kids from a D-rated school and college students eager to help with tutoring in a room? Magic happens. That magic has been unfolding inside Grand Canyon University’s Learning Lounge since launching in 2012 in partnership with Alhambra High School.

Actually, the students and tutors at the Lounge would likely chafe at the word “magic,” since nobody’s waving a wand to make things happen. The formula is straightforward – a college student sitting down with a high school sophomore to study math.

This experiment of pairing college kids and inner city students is proving to be a resoundingly harm-warming story in this neighborhood that is home to a sizable number of immigrants from Africa and Central America. “It’s vibrant with potential, but, you know, with inner city neighborhoods, everybody leaves,” said GCU President Brian Mueller.

The way Mueller puts it, Alhambra High School’s woes are typical of what’s going on in many public schools in inner city neighborhoods – K-12 students get little support at home because both parents work full-time jobs at minimum wages. But the university has more than a thousand students eager to help.

Mueller said when people talk about K-12 education, the first thing that comes up is how underfunded the schools are. But not many talk about “logical partnerships,” such as the one GCU has forged with Alhambra High School.

The Learning Lounge is part of GCU’s five-pronged approach to planting its foot firmly in this part of Phoenix, and committing to invigorate it by becoming, among other things, a place that high school kids can go to get help with their subjects – math, science, writing, anything.

Today, GCU deploys 1,200 college students providing one-on-one tutoring and mentoring between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. every day to kids from 73 schools. Alhambra High School went from being a failing school to now just a few points away from being a B-rated school.

“We didn’t solely do that. They’ve got a great faculty, they’ve got a great leadership, and they’re excited. But we helped,” Mueller said.

GCU’s commitment didn’t end there. Within the past two years, GCU raised funds to provide full-tuition scholarships for a total of 200 kids who come out of the Learning Lounge program. In return, the kids must pay it forward by also tutoring high school students.

The goal, Mueller said, is to offer scholarships to 800 kids from surrounding high schools.

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