Bartlesville Education Promise Still Keeping its Word

After five years of helping struggling students learn to read and stay in school, Bartlesville Education Promise continues to keep its commitment to the community to raise graduation rates and improve readiness for life after high school.

“Bartlesville Public Schools has been very supportive of us. They recognize that they don’t have the money to do everything,” said Martin Garber, BEP chairman.

He and several other civic leaders formed the nonprofit organization in 2015 after they were dismayed to find the high school graduation rate had dropped to around 83 percent from a high of 95 percent years earlier. What they discovered was that student demographics had changed dramatically.

“We now have over 50 percent of our kids on free and reduced lunch, which means low-income. We have over 300 kids that don’t speak English very well and we have over 400 kids who are homeless,” he said.

In response to what they found, Garber and other civic leaders established the organization to help the community assume greater ownership for the educational outcomes for all Bartlesville students. Run by 11 civic leader volunteers, the group raises private money to fill in the gaps left by the lack of state funding.

The cornerstone of the program is after-school tutoring free of charge to all Bartlesville students as well as rides home for middle- and high-school students. Last year alone, 1,700 students received free tutoring.

“Not many schools in the state are providing free tutoring with rides home,” Garber said.

In the 2018-19 school year, BEP served nearly 3,500 children in Bartlesville through tutoring, credit recovery courses, parental instruction, reading programs and leadership academies. That’s the last full year of data available since last year was cut short by the coronavirus.

Despite the pandemic, the organization revved up its 2020-21 school year this summer with programs such as elementary school reading program that went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 34 teachers taught 120 second- and third-graders who are behind in reading, identifying three essential reading skills specific to each child. The program was designed to help the child successfully pass the state third-grade reading examination, a requirement for students to move on to the fourth grade.

Some 248 students participated in the Boys and Girls Club summer education program that keeps children learning throughout the seasonal break, and includes Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programming along with high-yield learning activities. BEP provides financial support for that program.

Later this month, a virtual PSAT prep course will be available to students to prepare them for the SAT. The test is used to determine National Merit Scholars. The BEP will also hold virtual transition camps at Madison and Central middle schools to help students learn the campus, meet teachers and learn new study habits as they make the move to high school.

Garber said the board has approved a $100,000 fall program this year, including:

• After-school elementary tutoring for second- and third-graders at all Bartlesville elementary schools;

• After-school tutoring for middle- and high-school students with rides home;

• Support for credit recovery classes where students have a chance to re-take selected classes they may have had trouble with in the first semester;

• Support for the district’s Academic Therapeutic Learning Alternative Setting (ATLAS) program that provides specialized education for elementary students who aren’t academically successful due to childhood trauma;

• Parental instruction for Jane Phillips Elementary School parents;

• A new reading program for all Jane Phillips students where books are sent home over major holidays with children to be used as learning tools when they return;

• Leadership Academies for selected fourth- and fifth-graders where students learn about leadership before going to middle school;

• And after-school tutoring support for children at the Westside Community Center.

Although all students can benefit from the organization’s programs, those who are at risk of dropping out of school gain the most from the extra help, Garber said.

“That’s what we do. None of us are paid. We are all volunteers,” he said. “We just care about our kids.”

Originally published on Examiner Enterprise by Kim Archer, karcher@gannett.com

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