Third Quarter Grades
May 2013 Volume 3, Issue 4
The school year is rapidly winding down. A few weeks ago, our kids brought home their third quarter grades. As I was reviewing the students grades, I began to reflect on New Hope’s year. How have we done in our second full year of ministry?
The early days of our first year are a bittersweet memory. In August of 2011, our list of volunteers was slim: four Newmans and a recent ULL grad, Micah Leonard. We began our program with six students. As we added students, our difficulties multiplied. Growing from six to twelve students, led to dramatic increase in playground fights. It was February before we successfully recruited more volunteers. For those first seven months, we had difficulty staffing a program that only ran twice a week for those twelve students. It was a daunting start.
Two years later, we now provide tutoring three days a week. We now have nearly 50 regular volunteers working with our students. Last year we finished with a little more than 20 students. We will finish this year with nearly 40 registered students and an average daily attendance of 33. Since our current facility can only accommodate approximately 45 students, we have nearly reached capacity.
Numerical growth is nice, but the big question is, “Is it working?” We are seeing progress. When we started, we had fights in the playground weekly, if not daily. Any time we would turn our backs, some old neighborhood grudge was being settled. For the last two years, we have been teaching the kids that all the New Hope kids are on the same team.
Everyone that comes to tutoring is your teammate. If you want to come to tutoring, you need to figure out how to get along with your teammates. We do not allow fighting at tutoring, at school or in the neighborhood. This school year, we didn’t have our first fight until this March. Ironically, it was a fight between a middle school brother and sister.
How are the kids doing in school? We do not have direct access to standardized test results or their report card grades. Fortunately, most of the kids eagerly show us their report cards. Last year, one 6th grade student, “Jumaal”, was failing math terribly. This last quarter, when he saw his report card, he did the “happy dance.” For the first time, he received a “C” in math. “Jumaal” finally understands what is going on in his math class. Several new students have also shown steady progress; C’s in the fall, became B’s in the winter, and now they are even getting a scattered A or two.
To be sure, not every story is a success story. We work with several students with learning disabilities and a few with serious behavioral problems at school. Progress with these students is painfully slow. One of our students was expelled in December, another has had a discipline hearing this week, and yet another is finishing up the school year with a two-week suspension. But overall, we are seeing progress.
Our most recent drama involves a 4th-grade boy, “Roderick”, who started with us this January. His first day with us we had him read out loud his 18 spelling words. That took 45 minutes. “Roderick” reads at a first grade reading level. In school, they were teaching him long division. We discovered that “Roderick” did even not know addition or subtraction. On his first day with us, Roderick could not answer the questions, “What is one plus one?” “Roderick” is not dumb. He does not have a learning disability. He is just behind.
Understandably, he hates school. His behavior at school has been getting progressively worse. We believe “Roderick’s” discipline problems stem from his educational difficulties.
We may have identified “Roderick’s problem”, but that does not mean there is an easy solution. Helping a student read who hates reading, hates school and is constantly getting in trouble at school is a tremendous conundrum. “Roderick’s” story is part of an emerging pattern. We have the most difficulty helping kids that join our program after the third grade. But that should not have surprised us.
We have seen the studies. If an at-risk student is not at grade level reading by 4th grade, he is eight times more likely to drop out of school. The state of Louisiana uses 4th grade LEAP scores to determine how many prison cells they will need over the next 15 years. We are aware that many organizations that work with at-risk students that do not accept new students after age 10 because of their low success rates. By fourth grade they have developed intractable behavior problems, they are facing puberty and they are mad at the world; a toxic combination. It is difficult concept to fathom, but by the 4th grade, a kid’s ticket is punched; that their destiny has been sealed.
Probably our greatest learning over the last two years is that early intervention is crucial. Since we have limited space and a limited number of volunteers, we need to focus our efforts where we are likely to succeed. Next school year, we will work hard to identify Kindergartners and 1st graders in our neighborhood to join our program. Our goal will be to help these kids, who on average, start school 2 years behind. We will say “no” to the older students. Once a child is in our program, they can stay in our program, but as a rule, we will not be taking new fourth grade students.
What will happen to those fourth graders? They will drop out of school and will be 75% more likely to be in prison for committing a violent crime. As adults, they will be functionally illiterate, have a criminal record, and have no job skills. They will be unhireable and dependent on government for assistance. That is not the worst of it. They will have children who also will be raised up in generational poverty. And so, the cascading cycle of generational poverty gains momentum. It breaks our heart to say “no”, but fourth grade is just too late.
The good news is that early childhood intervention does make a difference. The story can be rewritten, it just requires earlier intervention. In just two years, we are seeing little lives turn around. We are seeing positive results. Our hope is that one day, the kids “at-risk” in Azalea Park will be known as “kids of promise.” And that one day our neighborhood is no longer known as the one which brings down a school’s LEAP test scores, but the place where the best and brightest students live.
Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and support.
John & Kris