An afterschool program expands and works to close achievement gap
COLUMBIA - A grant-funded after school academic enrichment program is expanding to two additional locations.
The current Grade A program is adding locations with different names - a program at St. Luke United Methodist Church called Project Hope and another at Bethel Church, called the Bethel Academic Support Program.
For His Glory Incorporated, which runs Grade A, plans to eventually have five sites in different parts of the city to serve 100 children.
The organization began with Dr. Janice Dawson, who worked as an educator for more than 15 years. Dawson taught at MU and also worked for Columbia Public Schools doing research on the achievement gap and how to create the optimal after school program.
The National Center for Education Statistics states, "the achievement gaps occur when one group of students outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant."
National Census data reports black and Hispanic students trailed their white peers by more than 20 test-score points in math and reading assessments, which is a difference of about two grade levels.
The achievement gap is often attributed to socioeconomic factors. Dawson said children of poverty are too "school dependent" for learning the information needed to succeed. Without out-of-school support for additional learning, those students are unable to close the gap and break the cycle of poverty due to a lack of information, exposure, and training, she said.
A 1995 Census Bureau study of language development showed children in poverty have smaller vocabularies and lower language skills than children from middle-income families. Recent data from 2014 shows that is still the case. Data has also shown dropout rates tend to be higher for children who live in poverty.
The U.S. Department of Education's website says "The No Child Left Behind Act" in 2001 shined a spotlight on federal education accountability for student achievement and a "greater awareness of racial disparities."
The attention led to more targeted interventions for different groups of students, but did not closed most achievement gaps according to the National Assessment of Education progress (NAEP).
For His Glory Ministry Incorporated has a long history of working with youth, families and the Columbia Public School system, beginning in 2000. After years of inconsistency and funding falling through, Dr. Dawson and group of college students created a new model, in 2011, called Grade A. After two years of operation it received grant funding from United Way and became recognized by the Voluntary Action Center as Outstanding Group Volunteers of the Year in 2013.
"We serve as a third party officiate in supporting agreements made between students and teachers or parents and schools," Dawson said. "The community support that is needed to aid these students in reaching success in school must also include the community."
Dawson said she found from her own research that children of poverty, generally have the following in common: a single parent earner, use of public assistance, residence in low-income housing in communities that lack public transportation, lack of technology in the home beyond a cell phone or Internet access, and expectations that older siblings will care for the younger siblings during the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. time frame, while working parents are en route home.
The program is currently housed in 2nd Baptist Missionary Church but Dawson says most of the students are not church members.
She said the program is slowly attempting to build collaborations with the church and other organizations to help to provide community support to families in crisis, or to help meet other needs the two new programs can not.
Dawson said she often has to explain that the incorporation of the church as an acting institution in the community and in the learning process is not a new concept, especially in the black community.
"This goes back to slavery when slaves were learning to read and seeking skills other than farming," Dawson said. "This type of community support started in the church. "
Dewayne Edwards, a single parent of three girls, said his children, one of them with a learning disability, have participated in the program for five years.
"Their grades are excellent," Edwards said. "I wouldn't be able to do it without help. It's more than just a program."
A study from The Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project shows three key findings:
- Consistent participation in afterschool programs leads to positive associations with student's overall academic performance.
- Teachers report increased school day attendance and work habits when students consistently attend afterschool programs
- Participation in out-of-school time activities is linked to positive effects on behavior outcomes such as aggression.
Dawson said the program helps many students succeed.
"Students overall have a better attitude about school, we've had several graduate and go on to college that were told they wouldn't, " she said.
The Grade A program coordinates with teachers and Columbia Public Schools. Within the program, students get assistance with their homework and access to technology needed to complete their assignments such as laptops, and iPads.
"Some of these kids don't have Internet at home, or the parents there to help them get their work done, because they themselves are working."
The Grade A program also provides mentorship, and motivational sessions for character and self-esteem building. The students are also given dinner, which is supported by a 2nd Baptist Church ministry.
"Isaiah 1:17 says learn to do well. That was the calling I heard. I believe all of these students can learn to do well," Dawson said.