For the students of today, a role in the workforce of tomorrow might have very little to do with a desk and a cubicle – instead, for some of them, a normal day could involve the use of a 3D printer, a laser cutter, a drone, or even a robot. Who better to help students explore these new skills as early as possible than a K-12 school? Franklin Road Academy presented its own brand of future-minded thinking in 2017 when it launched the Innovation Lab, a 2,000-square-foot space that offers students hands-on learning experiences using the tools and technologies they might encounter in a modern STEM workplace, while also allowing for creativity and problem-solving. Today, in addition to their regular coursework, you’ll find Franklin Road Academy (FRA) students using the Innovation Lab for robotics and Science Olympiad competitions.
The public education landscape in Nashville has always been littered with inequities, but the COVID-19 shutdown has aired much of this dirty laundry, and technology, or lack thereof, has become the subject of significant community attention.
As school-aged children across Nashville moved to a remote-learning system, a “digital divide” was quickly brought to light. In a city often celebrated for its economic prosperity, we learned that over half of the students in our public education system do not have access to both a device and to high-speed internet. By taking steps to close this divide, we will position our community to benefit far beyond the days of COVID-19.
COVID-19 will badly damage some student’s learning
As we consider how technology might expand opportunity for all children, let’s first consider how a lack of technology has already harmed many of them. The Brookings Institute tells us that when students are out of school for the standard two-month summer vacation, they lose 25%-30% worth of school-year learning, and the numbers are even worse for students of color.
If Nashville students return to classrooms in August, they will have been out of the classroom for a period of five months. If the Brookings’ numbers are to be believed, it is entirely possible that tens of thousands of Metro Nashville Public School students will have lost up to 75% of school-year learning by the time this summer ends.
But for some Nashville students, learning never stopped. Some schools and educators provided high-quality online resources to their students — of which there are countless — and some even provided real-time lessons through videoconferencing platforms. But it must be noted that without access to the internet and a device, a student would not have even had the option to take part in such offerings. Come fall 2020, these students may find themselves standing at the starting line — while their classmates are already halfway down the track.
John Cooper took a crucial first step
It doesn’t have to be this way. On June 8, Mayor John Cooper announced that every public school student in Nashville-Davidson County will be provided a laptop and, if needed, internet connectivity. This is an excellent first step in what is sure to be a long, grueling journey to create a more equitable public education system. But with a technology plan in place, one that will serve ALL Metro Nashville Public Schools students, we have reason to hope. With virtual learning opportunities in place, our school system has an additional tool in its toolbox, a way to inch toward closing the many student learning gaps we know exist.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, our community faced a terrible battle with college and career readiness: 70% of graduating MNPS students did not meet this mark. Literacy had long presented its own challenge: three out of four MNPS students do not read on grade level. The data has long tried to tell us that students required additional supports.
Imagine an inclusive future
Today, let’s imagine what Nashville’s student technology plan might make possible for MNPS families. How quickly and conveniently might students be able to take part in tutoring, self-paced academic courses or summer learning? For English language learners or students with disabilities, specialized supports could be offered around the clock. With fully equitable access to technology, we could push the doors of opportunity open for more than 80,000 students.
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As we approach the 2020-21 school year, we would be remiss as a community if we did not prepare for a schooling scenario that involves a combination of in-school and home-based learning. With the appropriate technology in the hands of every MNPS child, virtual learning solutions can be pursued with vigor, educators secure in the knowledge that all students have the ability to participate.
There will be challenges, certainly — we’re all familiar with the pains of technical glitches and internet outages. But by investing in a comprehensive technology plan for all public school students, our city has taken an enormous step in the right direction. Pandemic planning aside, equitable access to technology for Metro Nashville Public School students could lead us to a world in which students are not bound only to those supports that exist inside their school building. A one-to-one technology plan just makes sense.
A conversation about opportunity
At its core, this is a conversation about opportunity. With a technology-for-all plan, we move closer to creating a community in which every single student has access to a high-quality public education, regardless of where a student lives in our city. We can offer students a true 21st-century education, providing them a strong sense of digital literacy while supplementing traditional literacy work. We can better prepare every student for college and career by introducing technology-based pathways counseling, virtual job shadowing, career aptitude tests and so much more — to all students.
The first step to equitable public education in 2020? Connected devices for all. Thank you, Mayor Cooper, for leading our community in this direction.
Tara Scarlett is president and CEO of the Scarlett Family Foundation.
Read more at The Tennessean.Read More
But the impact of the Innovation Lab extends far beyond FRA’s own student community. Thanks to a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), FRA has hosted and collaborated with hundreds of MNPS students and educators through the Summer Innovation Institute. In the summer of 2019, the Institute welcomed over 100 students and eight teachers from four MNPS middle schools for summer camps held in the Innovation Lab. Summer 2019 marked the third summer of this partnership, meaning hundreds of middle school students across MNPS have now had the opportunity to craft, solve, and create using tools like 3D scanners and a virtual reality computer.
Perhaps most impressively, the Summer Innovation Institute experience has sparked community-wide good: in the summers of 2018 and 2019, student innovators used their lab to create products for the Nashville-based nonprofit Shower The People, which provides mobile shower and bathroom facilities to homeless individuals. Through this partnership, students are able not only to explore their own potential, but also to explore how these skills may be a force for good in their communities for years to come.
Thanks to Franklin Road Academy’s Innovation Lab and the Summer Innovation Institute, students across Nashville can dive deeper into science and technology, practice collaboration and problem-solving, and discover new passions. Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented FRA from hosting a 2020 Summer Innovation Institute, the Innovation Lab stands prepared to host students as soon as it is safe to do so, and for many years to come. The Scarlett Family Foundation is proud to support this program.
Tags: Grantee Story
Although many of us are quick to associate school leadership with teachers, principals, and superintendents, it is important to remember that many of the key decisions made on behalf of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and our community are made by our city’s nine school board members.
2020 brings another school board election cycle for Nashville – this time for districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. As such, there’s no time like the present for all local voters to re-familiarize themselves both with the responsibilities of the MNPS school board and with the schools and students served in each of these nine districts.
To aid in this pursuit, the Scarlett Family Foundation is excited to release an updated version of our District Data Pages, a collection of profiles featuring achievement, student culture, and teacher data for each MNPS school board district.
These updated pages, consisting of data from the 2018-19 school year, reveal to us a few notable themes.
Total student enrollment has changed dramatically, but only in certain districts.
The most significant decreases in total enrollment can be found in District 1 (North Nashville), which saw a drop of 1,002 students from 2016-17 to 2018-19, and in District 5 (Central & East Nashville), which saw a loss of nearly 4,000 students from 2016-17 to 2018-19. During the same time, District 6 (South Nashville) experienced a boom in student enrollment, growing from 10,765 students in 2016-17 to 13,771 in 2018-19.
The MNPS student body has become increasingly diverse.
When our 2016-17 District Data Pages were assembled, only District 2 (South Nashville)’s student population was so diverse that it had no racial or ethnic majority. The 2018-19 data show that the same can now be said for District 4 (Central & East Nashville). Only in Districts 1, 5 and 8 does any single racial or ethnic demographic group make up 50% or more of the entire student population.
More Nashville students are attending charter schools.
This trend is particularly evident in Central & East Nashville (District 5), where the percentage of students attending public charter schools increased from 38% in the 2016-17 school year to 59% in the 2018-19 school year. This is the only MNPS school board district in which a majority of students attending public schools are attending public charter schools. Northwest Nashville (District 1) saw its own notable increase, jumping from 24% of students attending charter schools in 2016-17 to 32% in 2018-19. Charter school enrollment also grew in Districts 2 (South Nashville) and 6 (South Nashville). There are no charter schools in Districts 8 or 9 (both Southwest Nashville).
Every district struggles to get its high school students “College Ready”.
With only 22% of all MNPS students hitting the “College Ready” benchmark (a score of 21 or above on the ACT exam,) achievement in this category is a struggle for every school board district. Not a single district can say the majority of its high school seniors achieved “College Ready” status in 2018-19. Districts 8 (Southwest Nashville) and 9 (Southwest Nashville) saw the highest number of students reaching college readiness, at 44% and 43% respectively. In District 5 (Central & East Nashville,) measures of college readiness range widely, with 47% of students at LEAD Academy high school meeting this mark, while only 9% of its Pearl-Cohn students do the same.
How does this data connect to the school board?
If the collected information in these district pages prove anything, it’s that each of Nashville’s nine school board districts is unique. In addition to making key decisions around subjects such as budget, curriculum, school calendar, director accountability, school openings and closings, and more, it is crucial that an MNPS board member serve as a voice for the students and families of their unique district.
In Nashville, school board members are elected by the public; and good data empower parents, advocates, local leaders and community members to cast a confident and informed vote when that vote is required. Though school board districts cannot be fully understood through facts and figures alone, we hope that the at-a-glance information found in these data pages will be helpful to those who seek to better understand the students and school communities in their district before visiting the polls in August.
The election for school board seats in Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 will take place on August 6, 2020.
Tags: High Quality Schools
In 2019, the Scarlett Family Foundation released the Cluster Profiles resource, a data-driven look into the performance and demographic metrics of Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) zoned school clusters. With these profiles – one for each MNPS high school feeder pattern or “cluster” – we aim to present the educational pathways of students who choose to attend their zoned school from elementary through high school. This month, we’ve released an updated version of these pages, to include school data from the 2018-19 school year. With this updated data, one stark truth remains the same: too many Nashville students attend low-performing schools.
In some cases, the data are startling. In the Maplewood cluster, a child may very well attend a Priority school – a school ranking in the bottom 5% of public schools statewide – for every year of their K-12 education. The same is true of the White’s Creek cluster. Still, there are bright spots to celebrate: in the Hunters Lane cluster, Gateway Elementary stands out as the only Reward school (ranking in the top 5% of public schools state-wide) in a cluster that includes four Priority schools. The accomplishments of this school community deserve celebration, and the same can be said for dozens of others within MNPS. However, taken together, the Cluster Profile data overwhelmingly point to a lack of high-quality public school options within the zoned pathways.
Though no cluster is perfect, we must acknowledge the distinct geographic divide in the location of our city’s highest-performing traditional public schools. These are found disproportionately in the West Nashville area, with Hillsboro and Hillwood clusters standing out as two primary examples. Both clusters contain three Reward schools, and high school graduates in these clusters post ACT scores of 19.9 and 18.9, respectively – the highest average ACT scores among all MNPS clusters.
Students in East and North Nashville, in clusters such as Pearl-Cohn or Hunters Lane, are far more likely to follow a K-12 pathway dominated by some of our lowest-performing schools. Three of the Pearl-Cohn cluster’s seven schools are Priority schools, and Hunters Lane High School – the only zoned high school option for families in this cluster – rank near the bottom for every metric included on our profiles.
This year’s updated Cluster Profiles include two new metrics: Three Year Enrollment Trend and Building Utilization Capacity. With the addition of these measurements, we are able to better understand changes in school population, which may point to broader population trends in a particular neighborhood. For example, we can see that the Hillwood cluster has experienced a -14% three-year enrollment trend decline, while the Overton cluster has seen a 10% enrollment increase in the same time period. With this information, we are prompted to wonder whether Nashville families are leaving the Hillwood cluster for another area of the city, or if they might be choosing to enroll their students in schools outside of their cluster. Conversely, the Overton cluster’s enrollment increase trend indicates that this Nashville neighborhood might be experiencing population growth, or perhaps Overton High School has attracted a large number of new students through MNPS’ high school open enrollment system.
The addition of the Building Utilization Capacity metric serves a similar purpose – if we know what percentage of student seats in a school building are occupied, we can understand not only the utilization and therefore the cost efficiency of the facility, but also how families in a particular neighborhood are taking advantage of their zoned school options. If a cluster’s building utilization capacity falls on the low-end – like the 57% measure observed in the Maplewood cluster – we might draw the conclusion that the school-aged population choosing to attend zoned schools within this cluster has decreased over some period of time. On the other end of the spectrum, we see that buildings in the Cane Ridge cluster are utilized at a rate of 100%, indicating that students filled all seats planned for that cluster’s school buildings in the 2018-19 school year.
Though the updated Cluster Profiles allow us the opportunity to better know our MNPS zoned schools, the data leave us with a disappointing conclusion: we still cannot say that every child in Nashville has access to a high-quality education. Though some clusters include high-performing magnet or charter school options, students who live in these cluster neighborhoods are not guaranteed a seat in such schools. Attending a non-zoned school option may also necessitate lengthy travel on the part of the student, making this option less than truly accessible. The truth remains that Nashville cannot currently offer an excellent public education to all of its children. At the Scarlett Family Foundation, we remain committed to driving positive change in this area.
Join Tara Scarlett, President of the Scarlett Family Foundation for a virtual fireside chat with Emily Freitag, CEO of Instruction Partners.
Instruction Partners is a nonprofit organization that walks arm-in-arm with educators to support great teaching and student learning. Emily and her team work with small school systems, both district and charter, to ensure ALL students have an excellent education experience.
As school districts across the country have been forced to quickly adapt to a new reality – one that takes students and educators out of the classroom and forces them to go remote – Emily and team have stepped up with clear guidance and resources aimed at making this transition as smooth as possible – though she’ll be the first to tell you, messiness is guaranteed.
For Superintendents & School Leaders
For Parents & Families
Nashville will truly thrive when every student, no matter where they live in our community, has access to a high-quality school and an outstanding education.
As a city, we have not yet accomplished this goal. But for some Nashville families, the best possible educational fit for their student comes in the form of a public charter school.
When a city can provide several high-performing public school options – whether traditional, magnet, or charter – families benefit. But good, clear information about these options is essential if parents are to make the best, most informed school choice for their students. That is why the Scarlett Family Foundation seeks to equip parents, educators, elected officials, and community leaders with data-driven insight into Nashville’s public schools.
Last year, we released our Charter School Profiles – a data resource that provides comparable, straight-forward information on our city’s charter schools. Using these profiles, families and community members can quickly and easily take a look at a school’s academics, culture, and demographics.
(We also created the MNPS Cluster Pathway Profiles, which follow a student’s educational journey along each cluster pathway in Nashville’s traditional, zoned public schools.)
We are committed to making this resource relevant and useful to the community for many years to come. In that spirit, we are pleased to announce that our Charter School Profiles have been updated to reflect data from the 2018-2019 school year – the most recent data available. These updated profiles also include new measurements of College and Career Readiness for our high school charter schools. You can explore and compare each school’s updated profile here.
As more Nashville families look to options outside their traditional neighborhood school, it is more important than ever that data-rich educational resources be accessible to them. In the 2018-2019 school year, 15.5% of Nashville’s 81,407 students attended charters schools. This is a slight increase from the 14% of students who attended charter schools in the previous year.
Key Takeaways about Nashville’s Public Charter Schools
Nashville’s charter schools continue to closely reflect the overall student population and demographics of the city. Although Nashville’s charter schools have a slightly lower percentage of English Language Learners and students with disabilities than Metro traditional schools, our local charter schools do enroll a higher percentage of lower-income, economically disadvantaged students.
Similar to last year’s profiles, Nashville’s charter schools scored, on average, higher in both Reading and Math than traditional schools. In the 2018-2019 school year, Nashville’s charter schools’ math achievement scores were higher than the Tennessee average.
College and Career Readiness
Nashville has five charter high schools. Because the majority of these schools are only a few years old, most have just begun to graduate students. In our updated profiles, we have added key metrics on college and career readiness to help evaluate how our charter high schools are performing in this area.
In the 2018-2019 school year, five of Nashville’s charter high schools reported composite ACT averages and two reported graduation rates and “Ready Graduate” percentages (a metric the State of Tennessee uses to determine college and career readiness). Students at Nashville’s charter high schools scored almost three points higher on the ACT, on average, than students at Nashville’s traditional high schools. However, the 19.6 ACT composite score is still below a 21, the widely accepted indicator for college and career readiness.
Continuing the trend seen last year, there are mixed results when looking at student attendance and school culture. Nashville’s charter schools have lower than average chronic student absenteeism and lower student attrition than Metro’s traditional public schools, but they also have higher average suspension rates and slightly higher teacher turnover.
In the coming weeks, we will be updating our other Nashville Education Facts and data resources to offer the most up-to-date picture of Nashville’s public education system possible. Check back soon for this additional information.
Since 1919, Junior Achievement has sought to empower students across the nation with the skills they’ll need to thrive in a global economy, providing lessons on financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and work readiness through engaging, hands-on activities. Today, Junior Achievement reaches approximately 4.9 million students per year – from kindergarten through 12th grade – in all 50 states, and involves leaders from the education, business, and civics sectors in its mission to prepare America’s youth for a successful life. The Scarlett Family Foundation has proudly supported Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee since 2008. \
In Middle Tennessee, Junior Achievement serves over 30,000 students per year, many of whom pass through its Nashville-based JA BizTown. This fully-interactive, simulated town allows its visitors to step inside a business community, creating opportunities for students to advance their understanding of the functions of banking, credit, taxes, customer service, and other essential work-and-life topics. Designed for students in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, the JA BizTown program welcomes visitors from all school settings, whether public, private or homeschool.
In 2020, Middle Tennessee students in grades 7 through 12 will have access to their own hands-on, state-of-the art program within JA, with the launch of the new JA Finance Park.
A Day in JA Finance Park
In the JA Finance Park program, students will explore how the financial choices they make, from higher education to healthcare and more, affect their personal lifestyles and budgets. Upon completion of a 13-week, in-school course, students will visit JA Finance Park and make use of its digital tools to simulate real-life situations around topics like jobs, family support, budgeting, and investment. Students might use their JA Finance Park tablet to go to the bank to apply for a home loan, job hunt, or even pay for items using their “own” credit card. This experience offers exposure to key skills students might not get from a traditional classroom setting, such as negotiation and spending, role-playing, self-reflection, and decision-making.
Offering lessons like, “Got Skills? College or Not?” and “Where’s All My Money?”, combined with the hands-on experience of a day in JA Finance Park, Junior Achievement aims to give its student participants the knowledge they’ll need to make sound personal finance decisions throughout their lives. To learn more about JA Finance Park, click HERE.Read More
Tags: Grantee Story
In 1993, in its education report card, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce named literacy as a significant issue plaguing Metro Public Schools. 26 years later, this warning has snowballed into what can only be called a public crisis. In the year 2019, seven out of ten third-graders in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) cannot read at grade level – approximately 4,500 children in total.
According to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than a proficient reader. As these students struggle to keep up with their peers academically, through fourth grade and beyond, the process of dropping out begins – a fate that research connects to higher rates of incarceration, along with other social repercussions. In Nashville, the lack of a high school diploma also carries startling economic implications. According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Vital Signs report, a local resident with no high school diploma will earn $23,389 on average – about $1,800 below the federal poverty line for a family of four.
But ultimately, no child’s future can be predicted with certainty, and Nashvillians should strive to set all children on a path to success in their earliest days. In some ways, the overall health of a community depends upon it. The Blueprint for Early Childhood Success tells us that “every child without a high school diploma costs society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity [per year] – a number that will increase dramatically as low-skills jobs continue to disappear and demand for skilled work increases.”
Nashville’s struggle to turn its youngest residents into skilled, lifelong readers has been publicly acknowledged by city leadership, and has inspired a rise in both enthusiasm for and resources dedicated to fighting the early literacy crisis. In fact, a concrete goal was articulated as part of the city-wide Blueprint for Early Childhood Success initiative: to double the number of third-grade students reading on grade level by 2025. But with only 3 out of 10 Nashville third-graders achieving proficiency in English Language Arts in 2019, it is clear we are not moving the needle quickly enough.
To spotlight our city’s literacy crisis, the Scarlett Family Foundation recently released an interactive data tool focused specifically on third grade literacy rates in Nashville. We recognize that the proficiency numbers listed on this data map do not exist in a vacuum; there is context to every school community, involving factors such as poverty, proximity to resources, percentage of non-native English speakers, and so on. But if we allow these numbers to serve as starting points for discussion, they may have the power to inspire community-wide action that leads to real, tangible improvement for Nashville’s students.
Takeaways from the Third Grade Literacy Data Tool
As previously mentioned, the last few years of available testing data reveal that the percentage of Nashville third graders reading on grade level has barely moved from year to year— both districtwide and for key student subgroups. Only 15% of economically disadvantaged students and 20% of Black/Latino/Native American students are reading on grade level.
The data indicate some variance across school type, with 30.1% of students at public charter schools testing ON track compared to 25.6% at traditional MNPS schools. In Metro Nashville’s magnet schools, significantly more students (43%) are on track in English Language Arts.
But this discrepancy pales in comparison to that seen amongst the various geographic regions of Nashville. Literacy rates are at their lowest in the Pearl Cohn cluster, where only 13% of students on track, followed closely by the Hunters Lane cluster (15%). Comparatively, the Hillsboro (59%), Hillwood (34%) and Overton (37.5%) clusters see significantly higher rates of third-grade reading proficiency, though still far from acceptable. This correlation between literacy rates and geographic location points to a glaring inequity in our city – no child’s academic future should be dictated solely by the neighborhood in which they live.
Some notable improvements in third grade literacy are found across clusters, with two elementary schools standing out as bright spots for growth over the past three years— Napier Elementary and Crieve Hall Elementary.
Napier Elementary, in the Glencliff Cluster, moved from N/A (meaning less than 5% of students tested on track) in 2017 and 2018, to 17% students testing on track in 2019. Crieve Hall, serving students in the Overton Cluster, saw approximately 40% of students on track in both 2017 and 2018. That number increased significantly in 2019, with 67% of students measuring at the on-track level.
Explore the state of third grade literacy in your neighborhood by visiting our Data Tool here.
We have the data that proves the problem. How do we move closer to a solution?
As a city, we’ve articulated a bold, worthy goal: to double the number of third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. But with growth stagnant, what are we as Nashvillians prepared to do to see real improvement?
Start Early, and Empower Parents
A child’s relationship with reading should begin in their earliest days – making the home, the childcare center, or the preschool a perfect place to introduce young children to words, books, and texts of all kinds.
Nashville Public Library (NPL) stands as a hub for reading-readiness resources and programming. NPL’s Bring Books to Life is a free early literacy outreach program that operates in over 150 preschools, pre-k programs, and child care centers across Nashville. The Library equips teachers with the strategies and tools that will allow them to bring age-appropriate literacy practices into the classroom and provide workshops for parents and caregivers that will help create a culture of reading at home.
Almost 1,000 children are registered for the Library’s Read to Rise program, which helps parents get intentional about story-time with the goal of building a habit of daily reading in the home. Additionally, the Ready Rosie application provides quick videos demonstrating how parents or caregivers can incorporate literacy, math and social emotional learning practices into their family’s daily life. With these tools, parents can become better teachers of and future advocates for their young readers.
Not a parent of young children? Volunteer or donate books.
Consider volunteering time or resources to students in need. Through local organizations like PENCIL and Book’em, volunteers can be connected to MNPS students who have been identified as requiring reading intervention. Book’em also welcomes community members to host book drives, an important part of making sure all Nashville students have access to books. An up-to-date listing of open volunteer opportunities across the city can be found through Hands On Nashville.
Raise Your Voice
It’s important to recognize that YOU have the power to make profound change in the lives of MNPS students; and in order for third grade literacy rates to improve at a transformational level, we must all come together to see this issue as a city-wide priority. If the data presented in the Third Grade Literacy Data Tool is shocking to you, tell your elected officials. Make your voice heard by contacting your school board member, your Council Member, and the Mayor’s Office. Let our city’s leaders know that early childhood literacy must remain at the top of Nashville’s priority list if we are ever to truly live up to our “It City” title, and ask them what they plan to do to bring all students up to grade-level reading proficiency.
If we as a community truly believe that literacy is fundamental to our city’s health, we must raise a collective voice and demand more for the children at risk of being left behind.Read More
Through the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee (BBBS), local children in need of guidance and support are provided with strong and enduring one-on-one mentoring relationships. One of BBBS’ school-based programs, the High School Bigs Literacy Program, gives at-risk elementary students the opportunity to be mentored by an exceptional high school student while also working on critical literacy skills.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has supported this innovative mentoring program since 2014. Rebecca Ackerman, Vice President of Programs at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, oversees the organization’s many mentoring programs. In this Q&A, we talk to Rebecca about how the program works, and why it has such a unique impact on its participants.
Why did Big Brothers Big Sisters start a literacy program?
One of the impacts we see of mentoring programs in general is increasing academic motivation. But we also see big disparities in academic preparation and achievement among elementary students. That time students are spending with their mentors could be leveraged to increase the number of hours of literacy support a child receives in the course of their school year.
So, we found the mentoring relationship is a great time to not only build connection and academic motivation, but build a foundation for academic achievement.
Where and how does the program operate?
The High School Bigs program matches high school students to elementary students within Rutherford County Schools. The Bigs spend about one hour a week with the student for one school year. The hope is for a healthy, long-term relationship because we know the best outcomes happen in relationships that are a year or longer.
Bigs make time to meet with their matches during the school day, and many give up their free periods to mentor. One high school starts an hour later than elementary schools, so those Bigs get up an hour early to meet with their Littles before their own school day even begins.
All of our high school students go through a rigorous application process and interview. We are looking for students who have a level of maturity, commitment and resilience. They are required to participate in a structured, formal training and connect with a coach on a weekly basis for the first year of their mentoring.
What kinds of things do the Bigs and Littles do together and how do these activities improve literacy?
Each match spends time reading together— the Little has the opportunity to read to their mentor or the mentor to the Little. We also provide literacy based-activities and games for the Bigs to do with the Littles.
Student voice is so critical in the learning experience. So conversation is a really important component of literacy building. Children don’t generally have a lot of time during the school day to engage in in-depth, one-on-one conversations. But having an hour for intentional conversation with their Big to read and discuss what was read increases their vocabulary and literacy comprehension.
How does having older students involved in the program make a difference for the younger students?
These matches are one of the sweetest things to observe. Often, the kids referred to us are struggling academically or socially. Because our Bigs are not an adult, they are safer to take risks with and the Littles have less fear. It is relationship-based learning.
Specifically, we often hear that the Littles feel important to their mentors, which is something that’s pretty remarkable when you think about the mentor relationship. Very often it makes sense where the mentor feels important— but this is one relationship in the Littles’ lives where by virtue of the fact that the high school student is showing up every week and giving them undivided attention, it communicates importance.
How does the program benefit the Bigs, too?
This is as much a resilience-builder for the high school student as it is for the Little. Empathy is a skill that is built through this process— and perseverance. It allows high school students to step out of themselves and to gain a different perspective from another person.
It helps them reflect on their own learning and how they’ve built skills and how they have grown as learners and as people. That process of relating to a young person who is struggling with a skill they have mastered is really grounding.
It helps them build the soft skills that are so necessary in the workforce. As they get ready to head off into college or career, for them to have this perspective that is broader than their own is really critical.
One of the only programs of its kind with an emphasis on literacy, the High School Bigs Literacy Program provides Littles with 30 additional hours of literacy programming over the course of the year.
Horizons at USN: Providing High-Quality, Engaging Summer Opportunities to Help Close the Achievement Gap
When we think of summer, we think of longer days and school-free schedules. But for too many students, summer can also mean learning loss— particularly for low-income students.
Each summer, Horizons provides critical enrichment programs and camps that allow participants to continue their learning even after the school year ends. By providing academic instruction during the summer months, students have the opportunity to improve their math and literacy skills before returning to school in the fall.
Launched in 2014, Horizons National partnered with University School of Nashville to host the first Horizons program in Tennessee. Through this innovative partnership, Horizons at USN supports low-income students from Carter Lawrence Elementary and Rose Park Middle the home school(s) of most Horizons students, who stay with the program through elementary and middle school, building their learning over eight summers.
The Scarlett Family Foundation supports Horizons at USN because all students deserve access to high-quality, engaging summer learning opportunities. There is no fee to any student who participates; and breakfast, lunch and snacks are served everyday.
The program runs for six weeks each summer, five days a week. In addition to academic classes taught by experienced teachers, the students participate in enriching experiences such as field trips, swim lessons, art, music, and drama.
In the summer of 2019, rising third graders completed an immersive unit on outer space, which included writing a research report on a planet, and traveling to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Rising fifth and sixth graders spent two weeks attending half-day USN Summer Camps, exploring topics like coding, engineering, painting, and biology.
Horizons aims to develop confident and competent learners who feel prepared when they return to school in the fall, and will continue to excel and succeed in their school lives for many years to come.
The program just completed its sixth summer, serving 85 rising first-through-sixth graders. The program will add a grade level each year until students are served through eighth grade, eventually hosting 120 participants per summer.
We know that summer learning loss can leave low-income students as many as three years behind their peers by the time they reach fifth grade. Through Horizons programming, students gain an average of two to three months of learning in reading and math skills in just six weeks, keeping them at grade level or above.
By the end of the 2019 summer, rising third grade students averaged six months of growth in reading; and rising sixth graders gained seven months of math skills.
Through high-quality, engaging summer learning opportunities, Horizons helps Nashville students fight learning loss, and ensures they are firmly planted on a path for future success.
Tags: Grantee Story