Members of Bartlesville Education Promise are continuing to build on the progress they’ve already made by expanding programs designed for students struggling in school.
For the 2017-18 school year, the nonprofit is providing funds for additional after-school tutoring in the district’s elementary schools, explained BEP chairman Martin Garber.
“We are committed in this area and basically doubled the funding we’re providing to the elementary schools for this year. They’re going to be tutoring all year,” he said.
BEP was formed in 2015, when the group of education supporters teamed up with Bartlesville public school officials to develop innovative ways to help at-risk youth live up to their potential and have a successful future.
The organization’s range of assistance has grown to include reading support for elementary students, after-school tutoring, a summer academy to help students transition to a new school, ACT/PSAT test preparation, and camps in Advanced Placement readiness, art and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
“What we’re concerned with is developing programs that raise the outcomes of the entire student body, with particular focus on the at-risk kids and helping them to graduate,” said Garber. “The community recognizes our mission and the progress is happening because of them.”
One of the major programs BEP focuses on is third-grade reading, and for the past two years it has provided take home books to each of the elementary schools.
BEP provides books for 20 percent of all elementary students to take home, and teachers are seeing good results among students who have difficulty in acquiring requisite readings skills.
“This gives them the opportunity to read, learn and explore more while in the comfort of their own home,” Jacquelyn Smith, first-grade teacher at Ranch Heights School, reported in a BEP feedback form.
“Hopefully we don’t have any kid that is held back because of reading, because that’s traumatic to the kid obviously and it’s very traumatic to the family as well,” said Garber. “Our goal is to make sure that every kid can read by the third grade, otherwise they’re going to be struggling their entire life.”
High school students who have difficulty grasping math and English can get assistance from qualified tutors three times a week now, and BEP also provides transportation home.
According to Ginger Griffin, BEP vice chairman, 85 percent of high school students who attended at least half of the tutoring sessions passed core classes.
Teachers also reported seeing growth in vocabulary and comprehension, said Griffin, and during the 2016-17 school year more than 1,000 middle school students and 600 Bartlesville High School students benefited from after-school tutoring.
Research shows that a significant challenge for some students is mastering the transition from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school, said Griffin.
“The migration causes some of the students to be fearful,” he said, noting that the transition from eight grade to high school can be particularly daunting..
Thanks to BEP-sponsored transition camps over the summer months, students gained an exposure to their new school, got informed about school programs and mastered their locker combinations. Students also learned about career paths related to their educational interests.
Griffin said that the summer transition camps help keep students minds engaged and productive. ACT/PSAT and AP Readiness was also was provided along with art, science and STEM camps.
“There’s a lot of countries who have year-round school and obviously when you have that, their test scores are going to be a lot better,” added Garber. “There’s a three month-period when families don’t concentrate on learning here, and part of our effort was to give our students an opportunity to learn in the summer if they’re so inclined.”
More than 70 qualified teachers from Bartlesville schools and Tri County Technology Center led the summer programs, and Garber noted that they were paid on an hourly basis with benefits.
Budget cuts to the Bartlesville Public School District, coupled with concerns about the increase of children at risk, Griffin believes that society “must step in” and help support the segment of students who are homeless, live in poverty, single-parent homes, abusive households or non-English speaking homes.
“Half the student body is getting free and reduced lunches. We’re concerned about the 25-30 most vulnerable kids in each graduating class, and we’re focusing on those, but we’re not forgetting that out of the 400 in a senior class, 200 of them have problems and obstacles they’re dealing with,” said Griffin. “These kids have obstacles that we need to help them with.”
Volunteers with BEP studied the total “needs” for volunteers last year and cataloged 150 opportunities. The group was successful in encouraging 100 of the positions to be filled and Griffin and Garber hope to have more on board this coming school year.
“All nine schools need extra help. Given the cutbacks the schools have had in all areas, they need many kinds of volunteers. All of the schools need library help, putting books in, crossing guards, monitors for the playground,” said Garber.
“The needs are compelling given the amount of cuts that have not only impacted the teachers but the support staff.”