After School University offers college prep for kids

Eleven-year-old Sam Hoeffel (left) and 14-year-old Ryan Bush study geometry with instructor Yash Raval at the After School University, which opened in December. Classes cost $55 an hour.

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs physics professor Anatoliy Glushchenko has planned a rigorous curriculum for students at the After School University.

Under his direction, they will go from algebra and geometry to physics and the study of quantum theory and then on to computer science engineering and computer programming.

After School University is a private program for elementary, middle and high school-age students founded in December by Maria Feekes.

Glushchenko is director of the UCCS Center for Innovation in Biophysics and Energy Research, Advanced Technologies & Optical Materials, a center designed to assist local high-tech companies. He is also is the curriculum advisor for the After School University.

Glushchenko and Feekes believe that a solid math and science education — starting in the early grades — will lead to a better-prepared workforce. They have put together an after-school curriculum of advanced math and science built on the premise that the country’s future prosperity relies on scientific and technological innovation.

“It isn’t about helping them with just homework,” Feekes said. “It’s about developing academic confidence and independent study so that the student can take the knowledge they learn, possess it, and use it for college and the workforce.”

Feekes spent her early career in the high-tech corporate world as a project manager. She has also worked with nonprofit organizations taking educational programs to developing countries.

She describes herself a problem solver who can assemble the right team for a project. She recently zeroed in on what she calls a national problem of low math and science test scores.

And she worries that in the U.S. 16 percent of college students choose a natural science or engineering college major compared to Europe where it is 26 percent of China where it is 47 percent.

“I thought combining my passion and my sense of business knowledge of project management, I could put the team together to be successful,” she said.

After School University, 7689 N. Union Blvd., has 15 instructors who specialize in math, physics, engineering, chemistry or computer science. Group classes in physics and computer programming are offered but most instructors work with students one-on-one.

And that’s where parents say they see a lot of the benefit.

“They not only get math, they get my son,” said Sue Hoeffel, who home schools her two sons.

Last year, her 11-year-old son tested into high-school algebra at a time when she had “pretty much maxed out” what she could to help teach him,” she said. “I feel like he has been given this gift and we need to be good stewards of it.”

At the After School University her son is studying geometry twice a week and expects to complete a year’s worth of work in one semester.

Feekes and Glushchenko designed the After School University so that students can enter in elementary school and take a set of courses in math, physics, engineering, computer programming, chemistry and biology that build on each other through middle school and high school.

“For someone who is going through this curriculum in physics, this is a direct way to MIT and Harvard and those best universities,” Glushchenko said.

The promise is that a student from any level will be an “A” student within one semester, Glushchenko said.

“Even at this young age, kids are fascinated about some element of physics — why is the sun yellow? Why are rainbows these colors?” Glushchenko said.

After School University, which expects annual revenue to be $200,000 this year, also offers test preparation workshops, tutoring in a specific subject and summer workshops.

About 65 students are full-time students and more than 300 students have taken workshops or test preparation or tutoring in math, physics, computer programming, biology and chemistry.

“A lot of kids I went to college with were struggling in calculus because they had never taking it before and these were business majors,” said Matt Zrust, a UCCS accounting major who is interning at the After School University as event manager.

It is his job to find community partners, sponsors and grants to help families cover the cost of the program, $55 an hour for individual instruction.

“There are a lot of kids who cannot afford these classes,” he said. “They might be interested but they cannot afford it.”

Feekes said she was inspired to open the After School University by her 8-year-old daughter. She wants her daughter, and all students, to own the fundamentals of advanced math, science, computer programming and engineering, “so they may be able to fill the (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) positions that are so very hard to fill in today’s job market,” she said. “Some of the highest paid jobs in America are in fact STEM positions,” Feekes said.

Feekes recently expanded the classroom space to make room for a computer and physics lab. And, she is negotiating partnerships with area school districts and charter schools to bring her after-school curriculum to their schools.

Glushchenko said the UCCS CiBER-ATOM center was designed to be a hub for local high-tech companies. But, one of the center’s missions is educating youngsters too, he said. The After School University program, he said, will help students become competitive for college scholarships and prepare them for the challenging university studies.

“This is my passion — I feel really that this country has a need for this curriculum,” Glushchenko said. “I am really convinced that disciplines like physics and engineering need to be taught from an early age.”