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Paul Ketchum – Making a Difference for Disadvantaged High School Students

Paul Ketchum

C rooked Oak High School isn’t a familiar name to most people in Oklahoma. Although the school district has become an established gathering place for the Oklahoma City community, its name does not evoke recollections of athletic success or academic distinction. Located at S.E. 15th Street and S. Eastern in Oklahoma City, the small unassuming high school is where CLS professor Paul Ketchum has been busy creating and implementing an urban high school program designed to increase the number of disadvantaged students eligible to attend college.

“I started working with the Crooked Oak school district and the superintendent, Brad Richards, a few years ago while doing some research,” Ketchum said. “As a former urban school teacher in Los Angeles, I’ve always been interested in making the outcomes from urban schools mirror those of the more affluent suburban schools. Upon analysis, it became evident that the key factor keeping many talented students out of top schools, and often out of college completely, were low ACT and SAT scores. The scores are a direct result of a ‘disconnect’ between what is being taught in the classroom and the skills or knowledge tested for on the standardized tests.”

Crooked Oak students in Paul Ketchum's programWorking in conjunction with the OU College of Arts and Sciences, Ketchum has implemented the Academic Success college preparation course to increase the Crooked Oak students’ ACT and SAT scores to meet college and university requirements. Ketchum says they have made great strides in filling this education gap, and he hopes to reach more students and communities in the future. “We’re trying to change the academic cultures of these low performing schools. At almost a year and a half into the program, we are seeing not only measurable success but also an increased expectation for their education from students.” Ketchum emphasizes the students’ increased expectations as one of the more important aspects of the program.

“Their improved scores are opening doors they never thought possible. Colleges and universities are paying attention to them, and that’s a great feeling.”

“These kids have increased interest in attending college and are holding themselves to new levels of accountability,” he said. “Their improved scores are opening doors they never thought possible. Colleges and universities are paying attention to them, and that’s a great feeling.”

Ketchum and his team developed the entirely grant-funded program material to correspond with the core areas of study used in standardized college entrance exams, such as the ACT and SAT. The program emphasizes math, science and biology, which were all identified deficiencies in the students’ areas of knowledge. Of particular note is a high school biology course that not only meets all of the high school requirements and expectations of OU’s biology department but is also primarily based on learning in a laboratory environment.

“If the success continues, we hope to roll out the program to other urban schools in a couple of years,” Ketchum said. “There is a whole population of poor and minority students who never get the chance to attend OU, not due to intellectual ability or drive but simply because of easily remedied educational deficiencies. We hope to get many more of these kids to the colleges and universities they belong in. We are simply trying to level the playing field and it appears we’re making a positive difference.”

While the program success has been impressive, Ketchum is quick to acknowledge it has truly been a group effort. He credits the program’s accomplishments to a variety of academic and administrative staff at OU, including the OU College of Arts and Sciences, OU Outreach and especially Crooked Oak Superintendent Brad Richards.

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The College of Liberal Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite bachelor's and master's degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.

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