Mychael Dickerson, the award-winning chief communications officer for Baltimore County Public Schools, discusses how his district engages parents, students, school staff and other stakeholders.
Parent/Teacher Collaboration Leads to “Students for Success”
Story posted April 9, 2009
• 50% of regular participants improved at least one letter grade in an academic subject during the program's first full year
• In collaboration with other FHS campus-wide efforts, Students for Success helped contribute to a 30-point increase (more than a 4% improvement) in school API (California's method of measuring school growth and performance) during the second year of implementation
Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA, is nothing if not diverse. The student population is 40% Hispanic, 25% Caucasian, 17% Asian, and 12% Filipino—to name just the four most prevalent ethnicities. The school is also socioeconomically diverse, with student families ranging from affluent to economically disadvantaged. In addition, 28% of students are English Language Learners and 10% are enrolled in special education courses.
Such diversity offers many benefits, but it also presents challenges. One enormous challenge is the large variance in academic support students get at home. While many students receive a great deal of support, many others do not. The school noticed that those students with less support were struggling academically and contributing to a school culture that encouraged students to hide their academic struggles or successes.
The school’s parents and staff recognized the need to help these students and create a stronger academic environment on campus. Yet they did not have much money to dedicate to a new program. So Fremont parent Julie Darwish teamed up with mathematics teacher and National Honor Society (NHS) adviser Khir Johari to create a plan. They developed the Students for Success Club, an after-school peer-tutoring program in which NHS students fulfill their community service requirements by helping other students with their studies.
The Club, which began in the fall of the 2006-2007 school year, is a drop-in program offering free tutoring to any Fremont High School student. Teachers recommend students for the club, and students can just stop by. Trained NHS tutors are on hand during the school day and after school Monday-Thursday from 1:30 until 5:00 pm. They are supervised by the NHS adviser and other trained staff (each week four teachers are available for assistance and ten parent volunteers help with logistics). At any given time 15-25 tutors are available. They provide support in all key subjects, including math (algebra to calculus), literature, social studies, science (biology, chemistry, and physics), and modern languages (Spanish, Chinese, French, and Japanese). Many tutors are multi-lingual, so help is available in several different languages.
Initially, the biggest challenge facing the program was getting the students who need the most help into the library after school. To do so, the program offers promotional gifts, monthly attendance drawings, and other incentives. Some teachers offer extra credit to students who attend. In addition, tutors who put in the most time qualify to compete for college scholarships. The initial funds for these incentives were donated by a parent, and the PTSA provided additional monies during the Club’s first full year.
Once students are in the door, their attendance and academic progress are tracked to determine the impact of the program. Results show that a significant number of students use Students for Success. During its first 21 days, there were over 1,000 student visits, with many students returning often. During the program’s first full year, 550 students registered to receive services from 100 registered tutors (of a school population of 1,950). So far this year, 531 students have registered for services from 106 registered tutors. On the average day, 94 students and 27 tutors work side-by-side. Most students work in groups, allowing tutors to rotate so that all attendees have easy access to help.
After the program’s first semester, Ms. Darwish (who volunteered her time to collect and analyze data) discovered that the grades of over 1/3 of regular attendees improved by at least one letter grade in one of the core subjects. Twenty-two students improved two letter grades, and two improved three—from F to B and D to A. Progress was so impressive that the Club sponsors decided to launch the SFS Challenge Program. Challengers seek to improve in at least one core subject by at least two letter grades, and they agree to attend the Club at least twice a week and stay one hour each time. If they meet the challenge, they enter into a drawing to receive an Apple iPod. At the end of the program’s first full year, data showed that 50% of regular attendees improved at least one letter grade in the subjects tracked. Twenty-six students qualified as SFS Challengers.
Students for Success has had an impact on more than just its participants. It has also helped influence the school’s overall academic culture. Previously, some students might have hidden their concern about their grades, their enjoyment of reading, or their need for academic help. But the Club has made it “cool” to hang out in the library after school. Students urge others to seek help. According to Mr. Terry Yu (NHS advisor for 2007-2008), “This peer pressure component is an intricate part of successfully changing the perception and attitude of the school as a whole.”
This change in culture has paid off and, with other school improvement efforts, has contributed to the school’s overall success. While SFS was developed, the school was placing a greater focus on standards-aligned curriculum. In addition, it was implementing a myriad of new test prep opportunities. Students were reminded in different ways that the results from their mandated tests make a difference to the school. All this contributed to a powerful combination and, after the first full year of the SFS program, Fremont’s Academic Performance Index (API) score (California’s method of measuring school improvement, based on test score performance from year to year) jumped 30 points.
Students for Success was founded on the vision of a parent and a teacher. As a result of their efforts, Principal Peggy Raun-Linde says, student “lives are being changed.” The administration is so impressed with the results that this year it provided a part-time position to help supplement parent volunteers who staff Students for Success. In addition, SFS is expanding to help students prepare for AP Tests, the SAT and ACT, STAR (California state testing), and the graduation exit exam. It is also reaching out into the community, connecting with local elementary and middle schools to provide tutoring for younger students.
For additional information, please contact:
PTSA President, Frement High School
Program Manager, Students For Success, Fremont High School
This program came to LFA's attention as the winner of the 2007-2008 Phoebe Apperson Hearst-National PTA Excellence in Education Partnership Award.
Story updated and adapted by Julie Darwish, based on an application submitted by Mary Ann Kurtz.