Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 2 Profiles of Promising Practices - 1995
A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Raising Hispanic Academic Achievement, Inc.
Silver Spring, Maryland
- Multi-level tutoring
- Leadership training
Raising Hispanic Academic Achievement, located at a high school, is a Saturday program in which volunteers from high schools, universities, and various professions tutor students in math, science, and English. The program, begun in 1992 and designed to increase the number of Hispanic students who graduate from high school prepared to pursue a career in math or science, emphasizes individualized instruction and self-esteem building. The program also uses Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques to build leadership skills in participants. All student tutors are volunteers, but those who help manage other tutors receive college tuition reimbursement.
Silver Spring is a middle-income suburb of Washington, D.C., that is home to at least 55,000 Latinos, many from El Salvador and other Central American countries. Blair High School, which houses the Saturday program, has the county's second-highest enrollment of students who are nonnative English speakers. Approximately 19 percent of Blair's students are Hispanic, 30 percent are Anglo, 32 percent are African American, 17 percent are Asian, and less than 1 percent are Native American. Roughly 43 percent of the students in Blair's enrollment area qualify for free or reduced-price meals; 70 percent come from households with an annual income of $18,000 or less.
The Saturday tutoring project began in November 1992. This voluntary program now serves 245 students in grades 1-12, of whom about 130 attend for three hours every week. There are 90 registered tutors, of which about one third are high school students, one third are college students, and one third are professionals from the community. Seventy percent of the tutors and all of the students are Hispanic. Approximately 20 percent of the students have limited English proficiency. Students opt to participate in the program, often at the suggestion of parents, teachers, or peers.
Major Program Features
- Planning and design. The project director began the program to fill a void in services for Hispanic children: Fewer special services provided by the schools target Hispanic youth than other minority groups of comparable or lesser size, although five times as many Hispanic as non-Hispanic girls drop out of local schools, and the statistics are even worse for boys. The director's goal was to unify the Hispanic community and build on its strengths through a program that matched successful older students with younger ones, who would not only receive academic help but also benefit from the positive role models tutors provide. The program runs from November through mid-May. When possible, students are matched with tutors of the same gender, on the assumption that students will identify more readily with role models of the same gender.
- Academic focus. The program provides individualized help with school assignments; participants are encouraged to focus on homework from math, science, or English classes. Tutors are trained to follow the county curriculum and state learning objectives for each grade level. If students do not bring assignments with them, they use textbooks, manipulatives, or reading books provided by the Saturday program to follow activities designed by the tutors. For example, if a student is in eighth-grade mathematics classes, the tutor refers to the list of concepts and skills that are being covered at a particular stage of the school year. Tutors are trained to use four basic problem-solving strategies for math: (1) think, (2) explore, (3) solve, and (4) look back. Students are encouraged to read problems and ask themselves "what does it ask me?" and "what does it tell me?" They are then advised to tell a story using pictures, or act out the problem. Tutors also use manipulatives to teach pre-math skills (e.g., sorting, matching, ordering, counting) to young students.
About 20 percent of the students also receive help in learning English as a second language, and tutors are trained to concentrate on the key vocabulary in a particular lesson. In addition, participants are taught to recognize the negative role of stereotypes--such as the myth that girls can't do well in math. As part of a career counseling component, visiting professionals discuss the types of education and work experience that different vocations require.
Student tutors must maintain a B average in the subject(s) they teach; project staff remind them repeatedly that tutors serve as positive role models for the younger students and that pursuing college careers is within their grasp. These volunteers are viewed as a precious and promising resource to be nurtured and promoted. The project sponsors two annual field trips for all participants, to such sites as a science museum and aquarium. Permission slips for the trip must be signed by the students' teachers as well as parents, in the hope that teachers will later connect the children's experiences with their class work.
- Organizational management/structure. Student tutors recruited from the high school are the heart of the program. With parent and teacher permission, they are expected to tutor at least two Saturdays each month. Approximately half the tutors are bilingual, and there are equal numbers of males and females. Volunteer tutors from the community and teachers from local schools also participate. At least one certified teacher is on-site each Saturday to act as a facilitator for the tutors.
The program director has begun to delegate authority to seven college students and 20 high school students with good academic records who show a willingness to learn more about management and effective leadership. These "senior quality leaders" and "quality leaders" make about 400 phone calls each week to maintain contact with tutors and students. The "senior quality leaders" also learn computer and management skills as they help process data that the program collects and cope with logistical issues, such as scheduling, making spreadsheets, writing letters and announcements to parents, and monitoring survey results. They are all working-class Hispanic college students who are compensated for their participation through tuition reimbursements paid directly to their colleges. To stay in the program, they must maintain a 3.0 grade average in their college courses.
- Parent and community involvement. Every school year, the project sponsors four bilingual meetings to teach parents strategies for planning their children's educational future. They are asked to analyze their children's courses and to question why a student with college aspirations may have been placed in consumer math instead of a more advanced course. Parents who are recent immigrants also discuss cultural issues. The two-hour sessions are held on Saturday mornings; unfortunately, many parents who work in service industries are unable to attend. The county's drug abuse and prevention association donated $2,500 for a year-long series of monthly parent workshops on child development, to be taught by a volunteer who is an assistant principal in a neighboring county.
Some parents also volunteer as tutors or help provide a nutritious snack that is served every Saturday. Parents are informed about program activities through bilingual notices sent home regularly with their children; nonliterate parents receive,phone calls.
- Professional environment. At the beginning of the school year, student tutors receive two training sessions from certified teacher volunteers. Topics include (1) ESOL strategies and techniques, (2) teaching math to children in grades 1-7, (3) teaching math to high school students, and (4) strategies for teaching English and reading. During the elementary and middle school math training session, tutors receive a summary of issues affecting Hispanic academic achievement, including placement in segregated schools with few resources and difficulty with learning the "language" of math. Tutors then review the grade-level objectives of the Maryland Functional Math Test as well as the curriculum and sequence of courses, which tutors use as guidelines. The trainer and tutors use role-playing to explore problem-solving techniques, working in small groups, and cooperative learning strategies. Tutors also receive copies of research on teaching mathematics to language-minority children and connecting mathematics to the real world.
Tutors receive ongoing training as needed from teachers who are present during the Saturday sessions. "Senior quality leaders" and "quality leaders" are expected to complete 40 hours of training in TQM techniques, computer use, and leadership during the school year. This training is conducted primarily by the project director with the help of some guest speakers and videos.
- Funding. Raising Hispanic Academic Achievement is a nonprofit program funded in 1993-94 at $65,000 in federal, state, and local grants. The budget allows a per-pupil expenditure of approximately $325, or slightly more than $4 per student hour. The principal funding source is a one-year renewable grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Other grants come from NASA, state and local anti-drug initiatives, the National Council of La Raza/The Mott Foundation, Westinghouse, and Hughes Aircraft. In 1993-94, the money was spent on tuition payments for seven college students who help administer the program, computers, field trips, training of "quality leaders," and books and materials for the project library. The budget changes dramatically each year in 1992-93, it was $13,000 and the project director hopes to find a more stable source of funding. He receives no in-kind contributions from the local schools and must pay for the space that the program uses. The program does not provide transportation, which sometimes limits students' ability to participate, although public transportation is an option for older students.
- Cultural inclusiveness. The project director, who is Hispanic, designed the program to inspire Hispanics to work together more effectively and to take advantage of opportunities to improve their circumstances. He hopes that the program will prove to the community that cultural cohesiveness can be a source of strength. All of the participants benefit from perceiving that they belong to a team of people who really care about each other. The project director acts as a cultural interpreter for many of the participants and their parents, helping them understand how the American education system works and how they can support their children within the schools.
- Assessment and accountability. Every week, student participants are asked to complete a survey that asks questions such as "what do you want to be?" or "what can you do better?" The surveys are designed to encourage students to think about their aspirations and learning patterns. Project leaders plan to analyze pre- and post-program responses to determine the project's impact on student attitudes. In addition, all of the participants' classroom teachers are asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the tutoring program, including any changes they have observed in a student's performance and/or confidence level. The project director also plans to ask for feedback from the parents of participating students.
The project director had initial difficulty in "selling" his project to the local schools, which were wary of yet another outside program and reluctant to commit resources or support. According to the director, the school system also was not used to targeting Hispanic students except as recipients of ESOL or immigrant services. To overcome this reluctance, the director found an ally within the school system--in this case, an assistant principal who helped the program obtain space in a school cafeteria and approved its recruitment process.
Disseminating information to the tutors and students has also been difficult because of a lack of cooperation by some teachers. However, the project director says that the barriers are steadily disappearing as the tutoring program gains more popularity and legitimacy; in spite of the large number of volunteer tutors he now recruits, he says it never seems to be enough to keep up with the ever-increasing number of students who want to be tutored.
Another challenge has been finding a stable source of funding; the project must apply for grants from many public and private sources to continue the program.
Evidence of Success
Indicators of the program's success include the high student attendance rate and low tutor attrition rate. In 1993-94, the program served 245 students. The primary reason that students give for dropping out of the program is lack of transportation.
There are many anecdotal reports from parents, students, tutors, and teachers that document the impact the Saturday program has had on students. According to the high school assistant principal, one student had been in special education classes and was failing almost every subject. Within a year of joining the program, the student became a tutor and is now on the honor roll. When asked what made the difference, the student said that before becoming involved in the Saturday program he never felt that he was capable of success. Since no one believed in him, he failed to believe in himself; but once he became involved in the program, he saw that his tutor believed he could succeed and he began to believe in himself.
The increasing popularity of the program also provides evidence of its success. The project director may limit the number of students served because word-of-mouth communication has caused so many to sign up. The project director now is grappling with the issue of how to evaluate the project. He plans to compile and analyze the results of student and teacher surveys that were completed during the last year.
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