According to the U.S. Department of Education, the strongest influences on graduation rates in Indiana schools are the proportion of single-parent families, socioeconomic status, and the proportion of families living below poverty level.
With a new program called High Hopes, several groups are taking steps to help increase the graduation rate in the Indianapolis Public School system.
Martin Williams, director of the Indianapolis Public Housing Agency, saw the need for a program for students in public housing that would help them achieve higher levels in school.
"The children in public housing have the same basic needs as children anywhere in the community," he says. "With a little help in the right areas, a lot of good could be realized."
With funding from Osco Drugs and the Indianapolis Foundation, the Marion County office of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service and the Indianapolis Public Housing agency developed an after-school tutoring program called High Hopes. For two days each week, elementary school students receive tutoring from Purdue education students.
After three semesters, the results are promising. School teachers who work with the students who return from the High Hopes program report that 54 percent have improved their school attendance, 64 percent are completing more or better-quality homework, and 61 percent have improved grades.
"The program puts them on a path toward graduation," says Ned Kalb, director of the Marion County Extension office.
Kalb also notes the excellent opportunity that the program offers Purdue education majors. "Purdue education students are the tutors," he says. "They learn about an entirely new clientele."
Jada Brooks, a Kokomo sophomore in elementary education last semester at Purdue, says: "I'm interested in teaching in inner cites. I'm learning a great deal first-hand, and I am more excited about what I can accomplish. The kids are great."
Marilyn Haring, dean of Purdue's School of Education, adds that the program allows student-teachers to be better prepared.
"The burnout rate for teachers can be very high," she says.
She says she thinks that students need to be better prepared for the real world, and the experience of tutoring students who live in Indianapolis Public Housing provides that preparation.
Mary Peters, Purdue Leadership and Community Development Extension educator in Marion County, coordinates the effort. She notes that the student-teachers guide the younger students and help them take what is sometimes their first steps toward finishing a homework assignment. Once those first steps are taken, it's like completing that first hurdle that was a barrier. The students begin to see how they can accomplish tasks in school, and they become more involved.
"The children can only aspire to what they know, and this project gives them more knowledge and skills to be successful in school," Peters says.
Williams agrees: "It's magnificent. We have to work together to make a difference."
Genick Blaise, now a graduate student in foreign languages and literatures at Purdue, volunteered to help tutor even after her class obligations were over. "I came back for the second semester with no pay and no credits toward a degree," she says. "I came back because I get so much out of the program."
Sandra Bailey, program coordinator at Laurel Wood Public Housing Community, talks about how much it helps the students who live in the community: "Since High Hopes began, I've seen how it has helped. I've seen report-card grades go up. I've talked to the parents, and they talk about the children's improvements. If it wasn't for the Purdue students, it wouldn't be what it is. I hope and pray we can continue the program."
Sources: Mary Peters (317) 253-0871 Ext:109
Marilyn Haring (765) 494-2336; e-mail, email@example.com
Ned Kalb: (317) 253-0871; Ext 102
Martin Williams: (317) 327-8103
Writer: Steve Cain (765) 494-8410; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
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