Partnership’s goal is student success

ROCHESTER — Catrina Sams has seen that the more support students have, the better they can do in school, especially when parents are involved in their children’s education.

"It takes a community to raise a child," she said.

So, the mom of an eighth-grader at James Monroe High School said that she is happy school officials are partnering with Ibero-American Action League and Rochester Institute of Technology to offer eighth-graders a new program to provide them resources to succeed, including pairing them with tutors and mentors.

"I think that is good, especially with Monroe being one of the schools failing," added Sams, who said that her son is doing well academically. "That would help a whole lot."

The enthusiasm of parents like Sams, who attended the fourth-annual kick-off event Aug. 28 for the new school year, is one of the reasons that Monroe is a perfect fit for the Gear Up program that will begin this fall with the 157 eighth-graders, program and school officials said.

"That is why we’re so thrilled to be working with Ibero on this," Dianne Spang, RIT’s director of K-12 partnerships. "I know they have a strong connection to parents, and that is one of the biggest hurdles to assist students with being college ready."

RIT and Ibero will provide tutoring and mentoring services to the eighth-grade students throughout their remaining school career to keep them in school and prepare them for college, Spang said. RIT students will serve as tutors, and students will have the opportunity to attend summer camps on the campus at no cost, she explained. Ibero has hired a coordinator who will oversee the mentoring of students as well as set up family workshops on college access and college readiness, the Common Core, school climate, and the Rochester City School District’s code of conduct and bilingual education services, said Jessica Wilson, Ibero’s associate director of youth services.

Much of that information will come by enrolling parents in the Padres Comprometidos program, which Ibero has been offering since 2012 to help Latino parents overcome cultural barriers so they can successfully advocate for their children and boost student achievement.

With the high concentration of Latinos at Monroe, such a partnership will benefit colleges as well as they work on increasing their minority student populations, Wilson added.

"We need to get kids on track to get ready for the next grade level, graduate and be college ready," she said.

Through Gear Up, students and families also will tour area colleges and receive information on career exploration, searching for colleges and financial aid, Spang said. The goal is to work with families early on in their children’s school careers so students don’t enter their junior year without ever having discussed those topics, Spang said.

"Again, that’s what I like about the Monroe environment: It really is a community," she added. "We’ll bring resources together and really help people prepare. So, really there won’t be any surprises."

The Gear Up program also will be helpful as the school navigates the state department of education’s scrutiny of its performance, school officials said, as well as its temporary move to John Marshall High School on Ridgeway Avenue. Monroe students will attend school in that building while work continues for the next two years on Monroe as part of the district’s modernization project.

The Gear Up Program will be one part of the school’s focus as a whole on creating "critical pathways" to make Monroe a successful "turnaround school," said Principal Vicky Ramos, noting that Ibero has always been a powerful partner.

Ramos said that Monroe has one year to meet the state’s benchmarks, which she had not received as of the Aug. 28 school year kick-off.

"Data can guide us," she said. "Numbers are important, but they don’t tell the (whole) story. They don’t tell the effort. They don’t tell the resilience."

Some progress was made last school year, Ramos said, as scores on Regents exam were higher although they still need improvement. The school’s graduation rate is also expected to rise, she said.

Ramos also saw glimmers of hope in the early start to the school year for Monroe students who had not participated in any summer learning programs, she said. Teachers were able to use their creativity for lessons during those three weeks, she explained, which began Aug. 10.

"The students loved it. And the teachers loved it," she said. "The challenge is how do I replicate it (during the school year). … Common Core was never meant to take away the excitement of teaching."

She also looks forward to the opportunities that will open up for her students through the Gear Up program, she said.

"This (program) is really exciting; We’re happy to get started," she said. "If every child learns of the possibilities … that there’s always hope and support, we have met the mark."

No matter what happens at Monroe at the end of this school year, the Gear Up program will follow the students, as has been the case with the two other Gear Up programs that RIT has been involved with, Spang explained.

The first one began in 1999 with students at the former James Madison Middle School and continued with the 300 students who went on to three different high schools, she said. The second started at Frederick Douglass Middle School, and that group of 720 students went on to two high schools, Spang said. The graduation rates for those students were 85 percent and 80 percent, respectively, and college attendance rates were 70 percent and 60 percent, she said.

Spang said that the focus is not just preparing students to enroll in college, however, but to prepare them to successfully complete college-level courses. Some students in the earlier Gear Up programs who went on to attend Monroe Community College have had to take remedial courses, which sets the students behind and they may choose to drop out, she added.

"We want to really get them on the path ready and going to college with the intention of completing college," Spang said.

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