Pathways to Success Closing Achievement Gap


Two school districts.
Two local foundations.
Two program models.
One goal:  Close the achievement gap for elementary and middle school students struggling with math and reading.

Penn State McKeesport Continuing Education (CE) is piloting the Pathways to Success program in the East Alleghenyand the WashingtonCountyAreaSchool Districts. Dr. Anthony Mitchell, University Community Programs, Continuing Education, designed the programs to focus on the specific academic and developmental needs of the students and families participating in the program.

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation has provided $95,000 in support and The Pittsburgh Foundation granted $50,000 for the innovative educational program designed to improve attendance, develop reading and writing proficiency skills, increase mathematics proficiency, and involve parents in a school-home partnership.

According to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education Council of Basic Education, PAGE1 Plan of Action, an achievement gap exists when groups of students with relatively equal ability fail to achieve at the same levels in school, with one group far exceeding the achievement of the other. Nationally and statewide, the most glaring gaps in academic achievement exist between the poor and the races.

?It is clear to me that under the mandates of No Child Left Behind, school districts cannot close achievement gaps without developing effective partnerships and collaborations,? Mitchell said.

?In today's high-stakes testing climate, poor skills and performance in reading and lack of parent involvement, especially on the elementary level among lower-income and minority families, can create serious inequities and academic under-achievement.?

The support of the Benedum and Pittsburgh Foundations is allowing PennStateand the school districts to design and implement an intervention program that can have a lasting impact. ?This impact not only benefits the students who participate in the program, it also enables teachers to maximize the learning of all students. By providing these students more time, attention and practice, we are improving the capacity of teachers to teach more effectively,? said Mitchell.

?The challenges facing school districts for higher levels of student proficiency are greater than ever before and after-school programming is one of the vehicles that can bring extra resources to the students, particularly those that are struggling to achieve,? said Dr. James V. Denova, senior program officer at the Claude W. Benedum Foundation.

?I believe that higher education has a powerful role to play in providing after-school programming.  Penn State McKeesport, in particular, has a tremendous record in community outreach and for that reason we at Benedum are very excited abut the opportunity to see how Pathways to Success can play out in the WashingtonSchool District,? Denova said.

The Pittsburgh Foundation grant targets the East AlleghenyPathways program, which involves a partnership of school administrators, five teachers and Penn State McKeesport student tutors. Approximately 52 third and fifth graders were registered in the program, which ran three days a week for ten weeks in the fall and ten weeks in the spring.

A typical two-hour day would include arrival, snack, self-esteem motivation, tutoring and homework support. Celebration programs for parents and families were held in the fall and spring to acknowledge the success of all students in the program. 

PennStatestudents serving as learning assistants found the work challenging. ?This program is teaching me the value of an education; I have tutored many children and the primary goal I have is that they understand why teaching things like science and math can contribute to their lives.. ." said Quincy Coles, a freshman studying to be a pediatrician.

Overall attendance was outstanding, according to Mitchell, who found families to be very supportive. ?One of the goals for this initiative was to create greater parental awareness of the No Child Left Behind Act and involvement in their child?s learning,? said Mitchell. 

East Allegheny Teacher and Pathways Instructor Kelly Ference agrees. ?The Pathways to Success Program is a great experience for children. It is wonderful to see children so enthused and engaged in learning in an after-school program after they have worked so hard all day. The enthusiasm and energy levels are definitely high during the program. The students truly enjoy the program and the academic benefits are evident in the progress they have made so far.  It is always an outstanding thing to see students enjoy learning,? she said.

?The Pittsburgh Foundation sees Penn State McKeesport's innovative approach of creating school-home partnerships as a well-conceived strategy for improving student achievement. By focusing on a combination of rigorous academic tutoring supported by mentor role models and parents, we believe Pathways to Success is making the best possible use of multiple resources to meet its objectives,? said William E. Trueheart, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

The Benedum Foundation grant is supporting the WashingtonAreaSchool Districtprogram. Pathways began in January for about 40 sixth graders and will run 20 consecutive weeks. The program model uses mentors from Southwest Training Services, Inc., tutors from The Huntington Learning Center and pre-service teachers from Washington & JeffersonCollege.

?The cognitive and emotional development of sixth graders can be extremely challenging to teachers and parents. This initiative targets adolescents who need social supports at this stage in their lives. In addition to the academic tutoring provided by The Huntington Learner Center, Pathways students receive life skills education from Southwest Training on topics that address self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying, conflict resolution, and internet safety to name a few. This exciting approach is different, and most importantly, the students seem to really appreciate what they are learning about choices and decision-making,? Mitchell said.

?We?re encouraged by the early student results and parents and teacher feedback,? observed Mitchell. ?We believe that long-term implementation of the Pathways models can significantly improve and sustain students? achievement and performance in math and reading proficiency. Thanks to our partners, the Pathways to Success is a program that may be transportable to other districts in the region and state.?