PAWS started as a vision of the program’s Executive Director, Ms. Sandy Cole. Ms. Cole initially wanted to start programming with middle-school aged children, however, through conversation with an officer she was encouraged to start earlier with elementary school students. As of 2013 there exists no federal funding for college outreach programs that target elementary school students. Because of the lack of funding available, Ms. Cole looked at various grants that would help target juvenile delinquency for elementary students. PAWS was first established through a $40,000 grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) program. The purpose of TCCY is to “oversee resource mapping of all federal and state funding streams that support the health, safety, permanence, growth, and development and education in Tennessee” (http://www.tennessee.gov/tccy/). To remain in compliance of the grant, Ms. Cole referenced the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to find a researched, proven model to use with fourth and fifth grade students. The curriculum first used in the program was Positive Action With Success. The name of the curriculum is how the program first derived its name.
In partnership with Brown International Academy, PAWS began as an after school initiative where UTC students served as mentors in the program. UTC students were a welcomed part of PAWS as they applied to volunteer to provide mentoring to the fourth and fifth grade participants of the program. UTC mentors were responsible for delivering the programming by means of facilitating activities from Positive Action, providing homework assistance, panels, campus tours, and other special events.
As time followed, PAWS started growing not only by reputation, but also by volunteers and participants. Partnerships with Education, Social Work, and Psychology departments were fostered and it is through these partnerships with those departments and overall campus that students benefited by serving as mentors in order to complete the field placement component or for the volunteer experience.
Goals continued to evolve in the program. As Ms. Cole noticed the fascination PAWS students had in learning about college from their mentors. PAWS evolved from being a program focusing on lowering juvenile delinquency to a program keen on helping elementary-age students explore their postsecondary options. In 2010 the PAWS abbreviation shift emphasis from “Positive Action With Success” to “Postsecondary Awareness With Success.” To make sure materials aligned with the goals of increasing postsecondary awareness a new curriculum was designed to meet the needs of the program. In 2011, the Center for Community Career Education published the comprehensive curriculum Achieving the Dream: College Bound! for the PAWS program.
Currently PAWS has served over 145 fourth and fifth grade students since 2007. As PAWS continues to benefit participants from Brown Academy, the future of PAWS is to expand to more elementary schools to create a greater impact of postsecondary awareness among fourth and fifth graders.