Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Community Schools: Full-Service Settings

What would it take for the youth who grow up in the North End of Springfield to achieve 'escape velocity'?

Today a new research by the Center for American Progress reporst on the impact of community schools was released. Community schools view their mission as an anti-poverty movement and attempt to be a hub in the life of a community and family. They strive to connect with the range of support organizations that can help families thrive.  The report describes them as schools that "partner with nonprofits and local agencies to provide students with health care, academic enrichment, mental and behavioral health services, and other youth development activities without burdening school staff."

Some choice quotes/insights from the report:

Community school partnerships can complement proven school improvement strategies-effective teachers challenging curriculum, and expanded learning time. These partnerships also allow teachers, principals, and staff to concentrate on what’s happening in the classroom with the knowledge that students’ “outside” needs are being addressed.
Recent evaluations of community schools throughout the country demonstrate that schools that integrate student services and a high-quality educational experience have a positive effect on students and their families in a variety of areas including student achievment, school attendance, and parent involvement.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Escape Velocity and Project Coach

In Thursday's class we did an activity where I asked students to find a sentence in Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America. A student immediately raised her hand and said, "The escape velocity section really moved me." She read this section:

 The faster you shoot a cannonball, the farther it would travel before falling to earth….if you shoot a cannonball fast enough, it will actually escape earth’s gravity and go into orbit. The question is what it takes to achieve escape velocity… In communities like Harlem, people tend to think that a single decent program for poor children is enough to provide escape velocity, to give the children the momentum to orbit around their communities and not be damaged. But they’re wrong… the gravity of the community always pulls the child back down. (pp. 231-232)

A wonderful discussion ensued: What does it take for a program or a school to sustain escape velocity? This question came back up at our Project Coach staff meeting on Friday. Do we provide enough boost to our youth to keep them on trajectory for success and college? 

The metaphor challenges all of us who work in youth programs to look deeply at our programs and ask these fundamental questions. 

  • Does our program provide enough boost to the youth we work with?
  • What is the nature of that boost? Are there times in a youth's life when we can anticipate that they will need a boost and what supports are in place to make that happen? We talked about how when high school students get to the age when it's important to think about college are there resources in place to help them negotiate the college application and financial aid process? 
  • When a youth starts to be susceptible to the forces of gravity, is the program tuned into his or her life enough to notice? If they notice what do they do?

Aside from the content of the conversation we had about Escape Velocity, the larger value was the time at a staff meeting to tangle with our hopes and aspirations for our program. At the core, what is Project Coach about? What can we do and what our limitations? The poetry of Geoffrey Candada enabled us to get to a deeper and more conceptual place. I am always struck by the power of poetry to trigger conversations that matter. 

r children reach “escape velocity.” What do you think it takes to achieve this escape veloc-

Monday, November 2, 2009

What can college students do?

A few weeks ago we hosted a discussion on the achievement gap. At the end of the community discussion a parent of two elementary students came up to me and said, "I don't know how parents do it? I'm a college-educated, career woman with a flexible work schedule and I can barely support my two children in their school endeavors. I can barely supervise their homework and project schedule and as they get older, I can barely keep up with the level of their work. I don't know how parents who have less education or less flexible time can manage to oversee their children's education."

Her comment highlights two crucial challenges for parents. First, given the complexity of family schedules-- how can you find the time and energy to stay on top of school responsibilities? Second, how do parents effectively help their children when they don't feel confident or competent in the subjects being studied?

According to a new survey sponsored by Intel, parents described themselves as particularly over matched by science and math. The researchers framed the the issue as parents feeling more uncomfortable talking about drug abuse than math or science with their children. It's an interesting framing of the problem by the researchers. The issue is not that American parents feel strangely capable of engaging their children in conversation about drug use, but that they don't believe they have the confidence or know-how to support their children when it comes to math and science.

So what does this have to do with college and high school students and after school programs? While parents might be decades away from their last chemistry or algebra course, teenagers and young adults are concurrently taking courses in math and science. If we had systems in place that provided these young people with opportunity to support the learning of younger students-- two benefits would be realized.

A. Children whose parents  don't have the knowledge, confidence, or time to help their children with math and science, would be getting help.

B. Numerous studies report that cross-age tutoring benefits tutors. Tutors demonstrate increases in attitude, peer relationship, self-efficacy, achievement scores, and in developing a more coherent understanding of the conceptual ideas at the heart of the material they are using with younger learners. In other words, the truism holds: "to teach is to learn and learn best."*

After school programs can become settings that provide time, space, and logistical support for cross-age tutoring and academic coaching. The apprenticeship model of Project Coach can serve as a model for the kinds of intensive support and preparation needed if 'tutors' are to be successful and derive a benefit from the process.

*See for example, Cross-Age Tutoring for Young Adolescents. By: Thrope, Lynne, Wood, Karen, Clearing House, Vol. 73, Issue 4, which finds that Cross-age tutoring is a form of cooperative learning in which an older student, often one who can benefit from additional reinforcement, is paired with a younger student who may or may not be in need of remediation. Putting students in cooperative groups or pairs has a long history of improving everything from achievement scores to self-esteem to peer relationships."