Saddling Up For A New School Year

By Elizabeth Davis

With August in full force, families are gearing up for a farewell to summer and a return to school.

Education is important, especially when there’s a positive correlation between the levels of education attained and median income. According to the results of a study published by the Mecklenburg County Manager’s Office, county residents with graduate or professional degrees have a median income that is 2.5x greater than that of residents who did not graduate from high school or earn something of equivalent value (such as the GED).

Further, in Mecklenburg County, 11.2% of residents have less than a high school diploma, and of these people, 30.9% live in poverty. Poverty thresholds vary depending on the number of individuals in a household, but for a family of four the national poverty line sits at an income of $23,834, to put things into perspective.

Although high school graduation rates have increased across all races and ethnicities since 2010, with the most recent data (from 2014) showing that 93% of whites, 87.3% of Asians, 82.6% of Blacks and 74.3% of Hispanics are graduating, there is still room for improvement.

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Room for improvement? That’s where Ada Jenkins comes in. For more than fifteen years, we have been running our LEARN Works program. Through this program, students in grades 1-8 who demonstrate a need for additional academic support are provided with extra attention and help in their learning endeavors.

Each afternoon begins with snack and quiet reading time. Students are encouraged to choose their own story and to practice critical thinking skills by writing a few sentences about the story at the end of each chapter. After recess on the playground (our kids have been at school for a long time by this point!) instructors and volunteers lead students in guided reading and help with homework.

Our one-on-one focus with students is incredibly beneficial for them. Students are expected to grow 5 points in reading and 3 points in math per year. One boy, John, grew 8 points in reading and 11 points in math in just one semester! Our kids are often smart but they have one of four issues affecting them at home, and sometimes a combination of these issues:

  1. Poverty
  2. Language barriers (over half of our students are Hispanic)
  3. Cultural issues
  4. Learning disabilities

To address poverty and language barriers, we are applying a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. Students often have family members enrolled in other programs at Ada Jenkins Center and we have case managers that work specifically with those families to help build success for students and parents simultaneously. We have a bilingual Family Engagement Specialist who serves as a liaison between the LEARN Works and Human Services departments.mario

LEARN Works focuses its efforts under three main goals – to promote academic development, foster personal growth, and provide enrichment experiences. Although LEARN Works does not directly impact the number of students who earn their high school diplomas, it is preparing students early on by instilling in them the determination, as well as providing them with the skills and motivation, important for staying in school.

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