Posted tagged ‘computer’

Redemption, Return, and Recovery: The Future of the Three R’s

September 13, 2010

Intro

Several years ago, I was charged with the responsibility of supervising an urban school district’s online credit recovery program.   At first, I reasonably questioned the validity of such a program relative to authentic student achievement and the dedication of non-traditional and at-risk students who formerly exhibited a devalued sense of the educational process and the associated achievement that can be realized through rigorous commitment.

For those unfamiliar with a credit recovery program, they are generally grounded in disruptive innovation theory and provide non-traditional student populations with an opportunity to claim academic credits that were lost due to course failure or excessive absence and time away from the traditional learning environment.

There are myriad examples of credit recovery programs currently in operation in the nation’s public schools.  I’ve witnessed everything from watered-down summer school programs to thoroughly organized,  demanding, and standards aligned  programs providing an asynchronous technologically integrative platform.  Like the Promise Academy Charter School in Cleveland, Ohio, which serves upwards of 750 students in an online credit recovery program housed in a three story renovated bank located in the business district of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, I chose to model what I observed to be a very successful and well managed program.  I flew from central Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Ohio and embarked on a two day period of intense site immersion in an attempt to collect the most relevant data for analysis towards the construction of an authentic framework for implementation back at home.

The purpose of this particular entry is not to necessarily focus on online credit recovery programs, but briefly provide insight as to the benefits of such a program to a challenging minority student population.

School records, Communication, and Re entry

The school district of record was experiencing a significantly high number of credit deficient students.  Roughly 1 in 5 students was behind in course credits, not on grade level, and prone to two outcomes:  dropout or attend school for more than the traditional four years. Even more impactful was the 10% drop in student population over the course of eight years. This indicated a serious dropout dilemma in the school district.

With this data in hand, I immediately began to work proactively by advertising this opportunity to administrators, guidance counselors, frustrated parents, community leaders, and anyone who was willing to hear my story whether at church, the grocery store, or barber shop.

Once the word got out that we were making a valid attempt to offer a paved road void of the obstacle laden experiences of their past, students ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one flooded my office for an application, consultation, and request for immediate enrollment.

In the very least, the groundswell indicated the want to secure a high school diploma.  The current and former students wanted to get their lives back on track beginning with the successful completion of high school.

Consultation

To understand the gravity of this experience, interviewing the students and collecting the necessary information related to their enrollment and academic plan, I must admit that I was often left with critically consuming emotions.

The potential student population served through the credit recovery program ran the gamut.  From students who had not attended school in over one hundred days to relatively new mothers to young men recently released from juvenile detention facilities and county prison, these were the students that were lost in the downward spiral of the system.  These students existed within a grey area that was often dismissed by educators.  They were the non-traditional, the at-risk, and those who experienced a less than favorable experience while in school.  These students represented a growing trend in American society.  I realized that we could not dismiss them, ignore them, or relegate them to a life of low stratification wrought with the cascading dilemmas of an adult life burdened by a lack of personal achievement and ancillary resources.

As I interviewed the students and family members, my administrative office morphed into a counseling center as I listened intently to stories filled with the sorrow, regret, and a legitimately overstated want for an attempt at academic redemption.  Kleenex™ was a standard desk item.

Students were experiencing such a dearth in course credits that a return to a traditional high school setting was not a consideration.  For example, a nineteen year old teen mother who amassed just twelve academic credits and had not been to school for two years was not a candidate for reentry into a traditional school setting.  Her needs eclipsed those of the typical junior in high school.  She needed daycare, employment, and housing.  The only way to successfully claim lost credits was through an online credit recovery program.

A Commitment to Recovery

During the course of the year, we successfully enrolled three hundred students with close to two hundred claiming a number of lost credits, returning to the traditional high school at grade level, and subsequently graduating eighty eight students who would have either dropped out or taken another year and a half to graduate.

As I frequented the two classrooms housing the credit recovery students, a phenomenon was occurring beyond that of the intended credit accumulation.  Students were attending with a higher frequency than at the traditional high school.  Students were developing an independent nature that somehow never developed prior to this progressive technological experience.   As students accumulated credits, a circularity developed that caused them to add credits at an alarming rate.  Again, many of these students were the castaways, push outs, and discipline problems.  They moved through the academic program modules that were aligned to state standards and district textbooks. They were given periodic online assessments.  If they did not score proficiently in the online assessment, the module automatically reverted to a tutoring module that emphasized the areas of low performance.  Once completing these tutoring modules, students were, once again, assessed for proficiency with an entirely different assessment set.  The ability to fail and not be permanently penalized helped boost the self-esteem of the students.  They were able to develop their own learning and evaluative processing style that transcended the learning environment to their lives outside of school in terms of situational evaluation techniques.  Further, they were able to exist as themselves in an unbiased setting that too often challenged their identity during the most intense moments of identity development, consideration, and commitment.

Success

As another school year came to a close, eighty eight students were getting sized for graduation gowns, drafting lists of announcement recipients, and planning for a life after high school graduation.  As the administrator of a program that was criticized by both teachers and administrative peers caught in the architecture of a century old traditional model, I stood before these students with adulation and pride.  Many had overcome situations that you and I would never want to endure.  Many parents and students alike never thought that this day would occur.  Thankfully, online learning has made this a reality for over two million of America’s children.

Outro

The successful completion of the credit recovery program increased the graduating class of 2009 by twenty five percent. 

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Building Capacity Through Peer to Peer Mentoring Programs

May 2, 2010

I had a significantly opportunistic and life changing experience while employed by an urban public school district in central Pennsylvania.  As a fourth year teacher in 2001, I overheard that the district had access to approximately $150,000.00 US to implement an in-house alternative school program for truant and excessively absent students.  As I sat idly in my apartment that weekend, I analyzed the larger dilemma and began to construct a proposal for the district’s first attempt at a night school since 1969. I recall working feverishly all weekend and printing the final proposal late Sunday night. I returned to work on Monday and submitted my proposal to the head principal who reviewed the document and was satisfied by the contents. She further stated that she would present the proposal when the principals convened for their weekly meeting at the Office of the Superintendent.  

Several days passed when I received a telephone call requesting my presence at the superintendent’s office.  At this meeting, and as occurs with most originators of a program or mechanism, I was asked to leave my teaching assignment and subsequently offered my first administrative assignment supervising five teachers and 150 at-risk students.  To this date, I have not looked back since.

Alternative education

The students/attendees of the program were provided a core course daily assignment within the minimum time required by the state department of education. Further, an on-site employment preparation program was made available by a local African American female* who possessed a 501c3 (non-profit) with a focus on job skills and fiscal responsibility.  To make a 6-month story short, whole group average daily attendance increased from thirty-one percent (31%) to ninety-two percent (92%) while more than thirty percent (30+%) gained employment through the support and efforts of the kind but ambitious lady with the 501c3. Bottom line, communicating our desire and the dire necessity for students to attend and actively participate served as the lifeblood of the program.

Despite feeling possessive of my first program, it was time to let it go and allow the lettered professionals nurture and expand a small idea into a fully functioning alternative education program.  I was truly happy with the level of participation, learning, and confidence building wrought over the previous six months.

Transition

The success of the program coupled with fiscal accountability and strong program dynamics helped me gain access to the ‘big house’, otherwise known as central administration.  As the newest and youngest member of the grant writing team, it was in this seven foot by thirteen foot room that a phenomenon was unfolding that would drastically alter my perception of public school education.

The initiative: Renaissance Program

Several months had passed before I was called to the Office of the Superintendent and informed that I was being given an assignment to meet with a local contractor turned banker turned philanthropist.  Using available state tax credits, the gentleman was interested in funding an after school program.  Understanding that he was limited in his ability to create such, I became the point man given great responsibility to create and supervise a successful program although I had no background relative to afterschool programs beyond knowledge of their existence.  The gentleman was willing to put forth $50,000.00 US dollars for the first year with an option for a three year commitment if the program exhibited results.  At the time, he was only concerned with the academic achievement aspect of the program and gave little consideration to the external influences and possible affects.  We didn’t know the externalities would eventually take center stage as influential components towards success.

First round draft picks

Although I would not consider myself scholarly at the time, I was able to work within budgets and create successful programs using researched theory.  I wanted to work with a state testing grade level that was mature enough to be actively engaged, but still required guidance and support. With this, I chose the fifth grade class of one elementary school.  I created an application that included general program information and several parental consent forms.  I received fifty-four completed applications from which twelve students would be randomly selected to participate.  As a marketing major in undergraduate school, I fully understood the importance of marketing hype; especially with a voluntary educational program. I held a thirty minute ooh and ahh session in the atrium of the school where a locally well known pastor reached into a container and randomly extracted twelve names.  Students were overwhelmingly excited when their names were announced.  Funny enough, to this day, I don’t believe all twelve elementary students even knew what they were excited about but what they did know, however, is they were finally chosen to be a part of something. Still, I was unsure whether the $50,000.00 US would be adequate to run a three hour per day, four days per week, thirty week program. Working within these limited parameters forced me to be creative in terms of curriculum and personnel choices.

Each one, teach one

I did not have enough funding available to hire teachers for part time work.  Therefore, I was inspired to look elsewhere for staff/personnel.I’ve always been a proponent of the ‘Each One, Teach One’ mantra and felt elementary students could benefit from a positive experience with high school students.  Growing up, we always looked up to and wanted to emulate the older kids.  This did not always transfer into appropriate decisions, but in a controlled environment, it had the potential to work.  I pitched the idea of having six of our most ambitious high school students become paid tutors (under adult supervision) to the elementary population randomly chosen to participate in the program.  Once I sold the idea to the philanthropist and senior administration, I immediately created an application to be distributed to the junior class at the local high school.   To my dismay, I received a paltry number of applications by the deadline, but the quality, not quantity, was of the utmost importance at this point.

I was able to reduce the number of high school applicants to a manageable number and began a vigorous interview period with the high school applicants. Fortunately, the six high school students were secured within several days and I was able to schedule an introductory training session by week’s end.

We were excited to see if the 2:1 mentee to mentor ratio would work. All fingers were crossed in hopes of success. 

Curriculum

I did not want to use the same texts and resources the students had access to everyday.  If I were to utilize the same ole, same ole, the program would surely be doomed to failure.  Additionally, I did not have the funding to purchase anything with a hard cover. Thus, I needed something fresh and affordable within the remaining $25,000.00 US dollars.  I began to search online and through every school merchandise mailer for a computer based math and reading curriculum that could be used through a twelve month licensing agreement.  With the help of a friend in the Information Technology Department, we were able to find, test, and purchase an affordable computer based math and reading curriculum. 

180 minutes

The three hour after school program incorporated an hour for homework, an hour for math, and an hour for reading.  This provided time for students to work within a hybrid context ensuring that traditional studies existed alongside the technologically progressive aspect of the program.  Further, opportunities for interaction and purposeful dialogue between the high school mentors and elementary mentees occurred.  After some time, I began to observe a type of older sibling-younger sibling relationship develop between the students.  We had, in essence, set the tone for a mentoring program within the existing tutoring component.

Final obstacle

Anyone who has had the opportunity to piece together field trips or programs for students knows transportation costs are often the make or break factor in the sustainability of a program. After some thought,  I decided the high school mentors/tutors would be transported to the elementary school across town by simply riding the high school bus that drops off in that section of town.  They were able to access the six o’clock athletic bus to get home at the end of the day.  Problem solved.

All in all, the success of the program was not limited to the academic success of the fifth grade mentees.  The aggressive application of a technology and computer based curriculum enhanced my perception of technology integration in the classroom. Although a hybrid model in the very least, a heightened sense of accomplishment was evidenced during site observations and informal dialogue. The young students were hooked on the technology.  Further, peer to peer student mentoring developed organically as positive relationships were formed and socially responsible practices emanated from the high school mentors.

Outcomes

High school student mentors

  • Employment/work experience
  • Teaching
  • Mentoring
  • Responsibility
  • Letters of recommendation
  • One hundred percent graduated to a four year college/university
  • Several entered college as elementary education majors

Elementary school student mentees

  • Averaged 178 points and 185 points above the districts fifth grade average on PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) math and reading examinations
  • Most entered the districts advanced placement high school of science and technology
  • Purposeful use of technology
  • Reduction in disciplinary action
  • Increased daily attendance
  • Increased parent participation

And the rest, my friends, is history.