Two simple words that carry with them decades-long frustration for educational leaders across the country. Yet, each of us is charged with defining, identifying, and addressing it within our district. And while we, collectively, wait for that one “thing” which will solve and fill the ubiquitous gap, the best we can do is to implement district-based programs to better meet the needs of our students in the hope that, one day, these small steps will make a substantial difference.
At Delsea, we have many programs that are designed for this singular focus. Our goals: identify, target, and commit to our at-risk students. Each of the following programs addresses these goals by taking into consideration the students’ academic, social, cultural, and emotional needs.
SHAPE (School and Home Achievement for a Partnership in Education)
This five-week summer program targets rising seventh and eighth graders who have shown lack of growth in ELA and/or math classes as well as a general, disaffected attitude toward school. Students are identified via a multitude of criteria: standardized test scores, classroom grades, attendance data, parent request, and teacher/counselor recommendation. Math and ELA teachers develop a connected curriculum based upon the summer’s theme. Students are given benchmark assessments at the onset and conclusion of the program to provide valuable data. In addition to math and English, students have a “hands on” session each day during which they build something related to the program’s theme using the math skills they are learning. There are also daily team-building activities that promote a positive attitude toward each other and school. At the end of the five weeks, we see dramatic changes in our students’ attitudes which carries over into the next school year and beyond. When we first started SHAPE in 2004 our guidance counselors had to work hard to “convince” parents about its merits; today we have a waiting list of students and parents requesting the program!
Delsea MEN Scholars (Mentoring, Empowering, and Necessitating a Change)
Throughout the years, we have had several mentoring programs which involved bringing in mentors from outside agencies and universities. Our MEN Scholar program is the full circle by-product of that practice. The program is focused on minority males and provides in-house, living examples of how to succeed in school. Successful minority juniors and seniors are recruited as MEN Scholars who are trained in how to be effective mentors. They meet with the Morgan State Mile Men who demonstrate what mentoring should look like and how it is best offered. Then our MEN Scholars, under the direction of their advisor, begin to meet with groups of other minority males within the school and the elementary sending districts. They are living, breathing examples that stereotypes don’t define you.
SWAG (Students Working A – G)
High school can be a trying time for any student but for our severely disaffected young men it sometimes becomes a countdown to dropping-out. These students have no support system at home, years of “failure” as a precedence, and a long list of discipline issues. Intensive support is needed so that they can be successful; enter SWAG. Each identified student has a SWAG period built into their day with two adults in the classroom. During that period, students work on organizational skills, complete missed work, get extra help, and are led in discussions about personal responsibility.
The “gap” isn’t always just about our struggling students. We noticed that minorities were underrepresented in our Honors and AP classes. Naturally, we looked at the data but we needed more information, so we talked to those students directly. We used an affinity chart activity with over 35 minority students and asked them to list all the reasons they weren’t taking Honors/AP classes. Their answers were sobering and eye-opening. We then created a long-range plan to increase those numbers through better identification and support. We are currently trending up!
Some of these programs were borne out of professional development from our affiliation with the New Jersey Network to Close the Achievement Gap. Have we solved the achievement gap conundrum yet? Not yet, but we’re getting closer… one student at a time.