Sixth grade was my lost year, academically speaking. My K-5th grade school had been in the small cinder block building at the Lutheran church that my grandfather built. Three grades, composed of about seven children each shared a room and a teacher. In sixth grade though, I was sent to public school. At Mary Devine Elementary, three classrooms were required to accommodate the sixth grade. Students were segregated into performance-leveled classes: the smart kids, the average students and the under-performers. Perhaps fearing the change in venue would be too much to cope with, and despite my over-achieving history, my parents decided to place me in the least academically challenging class.
My classmates, who’d been together since first grade, had perfected a culture of academic indifference. They neither reveled in success, nor regretted failure. As an outsider trying to fit in, I spent the year pretending not to know. I secretly completed assignments, voraciously read everything that was put before me and quietly collected straight A’s. And I retrained myself to not be the first hand in the air. My craving for peer approval far out-weighed my desire to impress Mr. Allison.
Much of the current literature on school reform describes the positive impact that a high expectations climate can have on academic achievement.
Campuses implement everything from dress codes to motivational posters to inspire an excitement for learning. But on campuses where significant numbers of students are falling behind, where classes are crowded and teachers stretched thin, the prescribed culture of well-intentioned administrators and teachers may be no match for the deeply ingrained traditions of adolescents who are more concerned with fitting in than getting ahead.
Still it’s not hopeless. Studies show that teachers still have the strongest impact on student performance. Further, the presence of a single caring adult – teacher, coach, volunteer — in a child’s life, someone who takes an interest in their social, emotional and academic well-being can prevent that child from checking out and eventually dropping out. That’s what Mr. Allison did for me that year. But more on that next week.
Pat Abrams, Executive Director
Join us. Volunteer now for spring.
Our team held a Thanksgiving celebration this week. It was the usual feast of the office potluck, with requisite over-eating. One thing I am thankful for is to work in a group with so many “foodies.” The spread was both healthy and delectable.
We noted the myriad transitions that APIE has weathered this year and honored the many reasons we are thankful. We said farewell to seven team members in 2011, including Kathrin Brewer, APIE’s founding Executive Director. We are thankful to Kathrin for her vision of a mobilized community for education and her gifts as a connector. These have been vital to the success that APIE enjoys today. We welcomed nine new team members, including myself and are grateful for the expanded skills and capacity that each person brings to the APIE mission. This year we expanded our programs to new schools and grades, we stepped up our game on college readiness and we leveraged technology solutions to gain efficiencies across all of our offerings. We extended the conversation with our stakeholders through social media outlets. Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as this blog.
We are profoundly grateful to our donors, for without them this work would not be possible. We are thankful for the 859 volunteers who give over 1000 hours a week in classroom coaching. We honor, as well the 700 mentors and 1500+ other volunteers who are enriching the educational experience for Austin ISD students. The heart and spirit of these volunteers infuse the APIE universe each day. They inspire us and sustain us.
2011 has been a transformational year for APIE. Yet, many things remain constant: the support of our managing partners, The Austin Independent School District and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; the passion of our staff and volunteers for the work we do in high need schools; the collaboration with more than 70 teachers whose classrooms we support; the sense of triumph every time a student experiences an academic achievement. For these things we are thankful.
Twenty-five high school seniors, mostly African-American and Hispanic, sit in the bleachers of the gym, recruited by their counselor to participate in a college readiness advising session. Most are there because their TAKS scores, though good, are not quite good enough to qualify them as “college ready” according to the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) standards. They can still go to college if they choose, but they will be required to complete and pass costly, non-credit bearing developmental courses in their initial college semesters. Statistics show that many of those students will drop out of college before they ever see the more engaging, college-level classes that can open up new worlds for them.
On this day, they will meet with advisors from APIE who will inform them about the TSI standards that must be achieved, how much of a gap they need to close, and what they can do to close the gaps. But first, they will have a lecture. Dr. Leonard Moore, Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at UT and a tenured History Professor is there to educate them on the value of a college education.
He described his own history of graduating from high school with a 1.6 grade point average. He grabbed their attention with a discussion about the culture of anti-intellectualism that many of them are immersed in, where family and friends may discourage their interest in academics, rendering them too cool for school. He collected a dozen backpacks from them, slinging the textbook laden sacks around his neck and shoulders, using this as a graphic illustration of the baggage that may predispose them to low expectations of what they might accomplish, or worse, failure. He spoke their language, named their demons and then he did something transformational: he looked each student in the eye and asked, “Where are you going to college? Have you applied? Have you visited the campus? Have you been accepted anywhere yet?”
In that moment, twenty-five young men and women, one by one claimed – out loud – a future for themselves that perhaps no one before had ever dreamed for them. Awesome!
Each year the Independent Sector, a leadership network for charities, foundations and corporate giving programs publishes an annual valuation for volunteer hours, providing one way to measure the impact that millions of volunteers make with one hour of service. For 2010, the value of a volunteer hour was set at $21.36.
Last school year, APIE filled 883 Classroom Coaching opportunities on a weekly basis. In addition, 750 mentors met with students over their lunch hour to read, play games, or just provide a friendly adult ear. Last year APIE volunteers delivered $34,880 worth of service to Austin students each week. Over an average of twenty-one weeks of programming, that totals just over $700K of additional resource in the school year!
Yet this figure represents only a fraction of the value delivered by these dedicated volunteers each week. Getting students engaged in math and reading, encouraging the development of critical thinking, problem-solving and team skills, building confidence in students’ academic abilities; this is what we invest in. And the outcomes are priceless.
Learn more about how you can make a difference with one hour a week. Go to http://www.austinpartners.org/volunteer to learn more about our Classroom Coaching and Mentoring opportunities.
Pat Abrams, Executive Director