Sometimes being a little off-track winds up in derailment.
What happens to children who drift off-track in school? Perhaps they have trouble with their colors in kindergarten. Or their letters and numbers are a little mixed up in first and second grades. As most parents know, many children wander a little off-track from time to time, and most of them get straightened out.
But students who have trouble getting straightened out often hang on in school by a thread until they enter the middle grades and high school and find that it is all too much for them.
For 25 years, fifth-grade teacher Michael Goltzer worried about this second group of students in his Silicon Valley community in California. The initial signs were often so subtle that no one paid attention. But the end result was a disaster.
Driving past his empty Ponderosa Elementary School one summer, Goltzer realized it sat empty three months a year and "the penny dropped." He knew what he could do for those students.
The end result is Project HELP, High Expectations Learning Program, an effort to make sure that drifting off-track early does not lead to derailment later.
With the leadership of then-Congressman Tom Campbell and contributions from some 60 Silicon Valley firms, Michael Goltzer created a program that works. Each year, elementary school students are tested and evaluated by their teachers to determine which children are at risk. Then about 65 students a year attend summer school for six weeks to receive individualized instruction in basic skills.
To reinforce what they learn during the summer, the following year the students are enrolled with the same teacher, a process that helps eliminate dislike of schoolwork, competition with other students, and fear of failure.
A key feature of the program, according to Goltzer is, "Only the best teachers are enlisted. That helps the teachers' bank accounts and drives up the kids learning curves."
Another key feature, and perhaps the most powerful one is that parents are required to show up at least once a week for a teacher-parent conference and parents have to agree to help their child with homework for 45 minutes a day, Monday through Thursday. "The biggest impact is on the kids," according to Goltzer. "They know their parents know."
Students participating in the 1992 summer session demonstrated impressive results. In the six-week program, reading, language, and mathematics skills jumped 20 percent, bringing many of the students from below national averages to, or above, national norms. "Kids are saying, 'I can do this.' And that's very powerful," says Goltzer.
Above all, he argues, intervention arrives far too late by the time students reach high school. Relationships with parents and teachers are often frayed beyond repair. Peer pressures kick in. Students are too far behind. But in the early years, approval from adults means more than the approbation of peers and a little help can go a long way.
Quantum Corp. founder David Brown sees Project HELP as part of the larger educational reform movement. "The extended school year, enhanced professional opportunities for teachers, accountability and school-based management are all a part of Project HELP."
For additional information:
Michael L. Goltzer
809 Ponderosa Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086