PEP Project at A&M-Texarkana opens door to higher education for area high school students

Pleasant Grove High School PEP graduates Sostenese Sanchez, Keyoni Dolberry, Alexia Sandoval, Jacory Prim, Jamee Ross and Clayton Rhoden take time for a photo at their graduation ceremony.

For recent Texas High School graduate Rahnique Perry, the PEP Project at Texas A&M University-Texarkana changed the way she viewed higher education.

“PEP gives students like me an extra boost to try harder, to apply for college no matter the personal problems in my life and to try to stay focused,” Perry said.

The PEP (Partnership, Engage, Prepare) Project at A&M-Texarkana began in 2013 with a grant from the Texas Pioneer Foundation and has received additional funding from the Women for A&M-Texarkana.

The university established partnerships with area high schools to identify sophomores, juniors and seniors and encourage them through an engagement and college preparation program to ensure their successful transition to higher education. Project elements include mentoring, staff training, college readiness, community service, student recognition and parental involvement.

“PEP is an awesome program that allows us to work with students and empower them to make decisions that will change their lives forever,” said Kimberly Bursey-Reece, PEP Project administrator at A&M-Texarkana.

“We help them to see that through education, they can have the future that they desire. Their canvas is blank. It is up to them to fill it in as they desire. We help provide them with the necessary tools and resources that they need to be college ready. Our goal is to enrich their lives, and daily, they enrich ours through their excitement and zeal for learning. I am so excited to be a part of this dynamic program,” Bursey-Reece said.

Some 120 students at Texas High School, Arkansas High School, Pleasant Grove High School and Liberty Eylau High School participate in the project. Upon completion, 20 students are selected to receive $1,000 scholarships. These students must apply and be admitted to A&M-Texarkana by the fall semester after high school graduation.

“I’m excited about the success of this program,” A&M-Texarkana Director of Admissions Toney Favors said. “We are strengthening support from the schools involved and most of all helping students in the 10th-12th grades transition to college.”

“During the first year of the program, 97 percent of the students enrolled in a postsecondary school or college. This year, the results indicate we are on the same path. I’d like to give special thanks to the Texas Pioneer Foundation and Women for A&M-Texarkana for investing in our community and youth,” Favors said.

High school teachers, counselors and administrators agreed about PEP’s success.

“The PEP Project has benefited Arkansas High School students greatly,” said Marilyn French, AHS counselor. “The mentors have been a definite plus.”

During campus visits, 24 university mentors assisted with college research and completing scholarship and college applications, which helped students set goals and make college and career plans.

PEP students traveled to Little Rock for a learning experience that included visits to the Little Rock Central High School Museum, the Arkansas State Capitol and the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. They also had lunch and enjoyed music at the Sweetgrass Jazz and Blues Café.

“The field trip was an exciting experience for AHS students,” French said. “They actually got to see some things that they had studied about and learn about some things that people had experienced in the past that allowed them to be where they are today. Definitely an educational and eye-opening experience.”

An end-of-the-year recognition program celebrated and rewarded the success of the students throughout the year, Bursey-Reece explained.

PEP student Laventry Easter celebrates his graduation from Arkansas High School.

“We presented everyone with a certificate of participation. We presented the graduating seniors with stoles and medallions with their names on them,” she said.

Students also participated in workshops on career planning with Dr. Bill McHenry, dean of graduate studies and research at A&M-Texarkana, and TEA (Think, Eat and be Active) Time with the personal trainers and coaches of Do All Unto Greatness. Fred Markham, director of the Texas Pioneer Foundation, spoke with the students, as did the superintendents of the school districts.

Assistant Principal Kendrick Smith said the PEP Project has been invaluable to his students at PGHS.

“The overall program has been very beneficial to all the students involved. It allows them to have serious conversations and preparation for the future.”

Meah Wilson, college readiness coordinator at AHS, shared the same view.

“The PEP Project is a nice extension to our existing college readiness program,” Wilson said. “It allowed younger students to get the college experience earlier. The trip to Little Rock was fun and informative. The students saw President Bill Clinton’s limo, a replica of the Oval Office and the Congressional Gold Medal for the Little Rock Nine. They had a chance to see and experience history and not just read about it.”

Jenny Walker, REACH teacher at THS, said, “I think the PEP Project is so important and the work that we are doing is truly changing lives.”

“PEP is that ‘extra assistance’ to prepare the student for graduation and attendance to college,” added Pat Hearn, counselor at LEHS.

In two short years, students involved in the PEP Project have seen much success.

“I want to thank everyone involved in the PEP Project. You have changed my life tremendously,” said Michaela Stiger, a junior at THS. “My ACT scores went up because we worked on my weak areas. I look forward to what next year will be.”

For more information, contact Kimberly Bursey-Reece, administrator for the PEP Project, at (903) 223-3176 or

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