Freshmen mentors paying big dividendsPublished 9:39am Thursday, April 25, 2013
If this was Paul Harvey, the rest of February’s Starfish Story would be the immediate phenomenal progress attributable to second-semester freshmen mentors.
Deputy Supt. Dawn Conner, a 27-year district veteran, describes herself as “blown away” by such statistical swings as 68 more A’s and 79 fewer F’s.
Mean scores moved from 72.6 to 77.14 for freshmen courses.
Trend lines show that all students benefit whether they had mentors or not because of an additional adult in the classroom.
Thirty-nine of 200 freshmen who failed algebra first semester are now passing.
Of 90 students with mentors, 80 percent improved in at least one course.
Dowagiac implemented Reading Recovery to insure elementary students read at grade level by third grade. Mentors support at-risk ninth graders who, if they start high school failing classes risk not graduating.
More good news came Tuesday with Dowagiac again rated bronze by U.S. News and World Report — the only school in Michigan.
Like a five-pronged starfish, a quintet of individuals with more than 100 years of experience moved into mentoring — Karla Pruis, retired DUHS special education instructor; Teri Frantz, retired DUHS English and journalism teacher and yearbook adviser who went on to teach at Southwestern Michigan College; Bernard Thomas, retired social studies teacher and the head coach who led the football team to a state title; Larry Bengtsson, retired middle school and high school science teacher; and Mike Dzakowic, a retired California police officer transitioning into a new career in mathematics.
DUHS already had a part-time student advocate, Douglas C. Pearson, a retired Air Force colonel who was a military meteorologist.
Principal Pieter Hoekstra’s teachers “have been waiting for a way to make a difference, and they just didn’t know what it was because they have embraced it wholly,” Conner told school board April 22.
The high school staff is not lowering standards.
Students are learning the material, rising to the challenge and undoubtedly changing their opinions of themselves by tasting academic success.
Educators will be evaluating why 13 students failed to show no improvement and figure a way to help them succeed, too, such as tutoring or summer school.
Conner’s return to school board fulfills her Jan. 28 follow-up pledge for mentors funded from $759,693 the district received this year in at-risk funds.
Dowagiac is also tapping Kara Cox as an eighth-ninth grade “transition counselor” to bolster the move from middle school to high school.
Every student matters. The district is demonstrating that in a big, life-changing way.