by Greg Cunningham, JFYNetWorks Blended Learning Specialist
The world of education has a natural tendency to focus on the academic. A student needs to learn to write, solve equations, analyze a piece of literature, and then demonstrate all that and more in comprehensive testing.
What is often lost amid the lessons and tests is what makes a student want to learn. Adults understand that education can be the great equalizer, the social leveler. But helping a young, not fully developed mind understand how important education is can be a daunting, even maddening task. It is easy for teachers, administrators and school support staff to focus on the lessons and lose sight of the human being that is the student.
In his dissertation, “A resilience-promoting dynamic learning community: A case study of a southern New England high school” (Johnson & Wales University, 2001), Dr. Mike Marrapodi, Dean of Online Programs & Inter-Institutional Affairs at Quincy College, studied student motivation and its relation to high school graduation. The one commonality he found among graduated students was their ability to connect with an adult in the school system. Whether it was the high school custodian or a third-grade teacher, students who succeeded had made such a connection. Most telling was the fact that those who failed to graduate had no such adult connection. It was an inescapable conclusion that these types of non-academic, non-quantitative, un-measurable support factors played a significant catalytic role in a student’s success.
When the administration at Urban Science Academy, a JFY partner school in Boston, decided to apply for a grant to help students who needed to make up credits in order to graduate, choosing the site was a critical decision. The idea was to bring students to a college campus to give them a taste of college life and a glimpse of a possible future. Thanks to Dr. Marrapodi’s intervention, Quincy College was happy to provide the space in the hope that the surroundings would encourage USA students to aspire to higher education.
The theory worked out. The Quincy College space proved to be a grand success. But it was the staff that made the summer a success. Twenty-seven (of twenty-nine) students completed the post-program survey. Twenty talked warmly about the teachers who taught them and the counselors who supported them during the five-weeks. These adult connections brought students back day after day, rain or shine, for five weeks of the “Summer Bridge.” These bonds made the connection, the bridge, to the upcoming school year.
“My next step is to take what I’ve learned and my new scholarly habits back to school. I see education differently,” commented Tyrese, who will return to Urban Science as a senior.
“I’m going to be working hard and always be dedicated to my work and not let peers around me distract me,” was the resolution of Anastaiya.
“I am going to approach this school year with a clear mindset of what to get done and how to deal with it,” is what Keyshawan learned from the program.
“I am proud of doing very well in math and for the first time ever, I have earned a good grade,” was the statement of Ledja.
‘Proud’ is not an adjective often used by students about schoolwork, especially math. This feeling will likely be carried over as the new school year begins.
It is an occupational hazard for administrators and even teachers to become so focused on outcomes like MCAS results or grades that we forget about the human being. We all need connections, support and relationships in order to feel like a functioning member of society. These interactions help to complete our humanness. For students, a connection with an adult is an essential element of success, and one that helps to complete the whole student.
The old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” with the punchline: “Practice!” could easily be adapted to “How do you get to college? Study!” But getting to college and to life after college isn’t just about studying or just about passing tests. While the campus, the coursework and the academic ability of the student all contribute to success, we must never forget the crucial role of those personal interactions. A student who knows that someone cares has already found success.