DC Schools for At-Risk Students Recognized for Academic Achievement – The Washington Post | Wonder Mind Kids


Niya White, the principal of the Center City Public Charter School’s Congress Heights campus, admits she’s “a bit obsessive” when it comes to her students’ data. In her office, she flipped through pages of completed math worksheets and “exit tickets.”

“It’s almost like your ticket,” Smith said of the forms, which are collected at the end of class and used by students to demonstrate what they’ve learned. “Just so you know they understand and have mastered that lesson for that particular day and we can move on to something different or different, or if there are a few bags.”

The pages revealed neatly printed math functions written by fifth graders. She pointed out examples of mastery, but there were also flaws. “If I look through and see like, ‘Hey, there’s about eight kids who made the same common mistake,’ let’s go back.” Sometimes, White trawls through dozens of assignments — from kindergarten through eighth grade.

It’s a strategy that helped earn the Southeast Washington campus a place on the 2022 EmpowerK12 list of Bold Performance Schools. According to the DC Education Research Group, these schools, which educate large numbers of students classified by the city as “at risk,” are outperforming their peers across the district.

Children at risk include college students from low-income families, as well as children who are homeless or in foster care in the city. But the educators who teach them, grade their assignments, and help them source t-shirts for ghost week don’t think of them that way.

“We don’t have difficult students, we don’t have at-risk students,” said LeVar Jenkins, principal of John Burroughs Elementary School, another school on the list. “We only have students”

This year’s Bold Performance Schools include 14 elementary, middle and high schools. The schools’ students achieved performance rates on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Test — commonly known as PARCC — that averaged 9.1 percentage points higher than other schools with similar demographics. They also outperformed the pre-pandemic average among similar schools on the standardized test.

At Burroughs, Jenkins said teachers have doubled down on providing feedback to students during the pandemic. “You could really see what a student was or couldn’t grasp in the moment,” Jenkins said. If a teacher noticed a problem, it was corrected “on the spot”.

In other cases, these schools found ways to give the children more study time. Center City began offering in-person learning to students during the 2020-21 school year when many schools remained closed. Families who have struggled to keep their children online, whether due to work commitments or poor internet access, may be sending their children to school.

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Bold Performance Schools includes nine charter campuses: Center City at Congress Heights; Washington Global Public Charter School; Roots Public Charter School; KIPP DC Legacy College Prep High School; Friendship Southeast Elementary School; Digital Pioneers High School; Paul Public Charter School; Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy; and Bridges Public Charter School.

Burroughs, Burrville, Langdon, Garrison, and Payne Elementary Schools, which are traditional public campuses, were also recognized.

EmpowerK12 uses a mathematical model to calculate how schools with large at-risk groups — at least 30 percent of the student body — compare to their peers on the standardized test. According to an EmpowerK12 analysis of 2022 PARCC data, about 14 percent of children in schools with high-risk populations across the city are reading and doing arithmetic at the class level. However, in Bold Performance Schools, an average of 23 percent of children meet this standard.

The schools are spread across sectors and districts, but share some commonalities. According to EmpowerK12, they prioritize family engagement, increased study time for students, small-group instruction, and weekly data monitoring. The teachers are regularly observed and trained to improve.

“A lot depends on the quality of the staff and leadership in these schools,” said Josh Boots, founder and CEO of EmpowerK12, and an “overemphasis on relationships and fun.”

Tarsha Warren, assistant principal at Burroughs, knows every student in the building and, in many cases, their parents, aunts and cousins ​​as well. So do most of their colleagues.

“We’re not going anywhere,” she said of the staff. Warren has been in Burroughs for more than 20 years and most of the teachers have worked in the building for at least a decade. Warren compared the school’s staff to a family where everyone is supportive but also held accountable for missteps. That keeps her close. “Our children know they will see the same faces year after year.”

Jenkins said it’s critical that teachers, students, parents and staff both feel they have decision-making power and ownership of the school. Hallways and classrooms are adorned with student artwork and hand-painted murals.

A hallmark of the campus is weekly “character building,” which focuses on student voices, Jenkins said. The lessons include a theme — a topical issue centered around respect for the school’s culture and environment, Jenkins said.

“You’ll notice students talking, you’ll notice students voicing their point of view, you’ll have students challenging each other,” he said of the conversations, which are being led by the school’s mental health staff. About 30 percent of Burroughs’ students are at grade level in reading and math, according to an EmpowerK12 analysis. Forty-one percent of black-majority schools are considered at risk, data from DC public schools shows.

Twenty-eight percent of Center City’s predominantly black students are at grade level in the subjects, Empowerk12 found. More than half of the students there are classified as “at risk”, a term that makes the principal laugh.

“I find it funny when people ask, ‘Hey, how did you do that?’ How did we do what?” Weiss asked. “How did we teach the children the way we should? How did we take care of them like we should? How did we keep them safe like we should? We did what we should do.”

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White showed a room with 4-year-olds practicing their penmanship by writing the date on dry-erase boards. Her unsteady hands gripped her pens tightly, but as White entered the room, one dropped the utensil to curl her fingers into the shape of a heart.

Elsewhere in the building are small reminders of the support. The vocabulary or multiplication problems that a student may encounter on a test are posted in the hallways. In the hallway where the middle school students have their classes, college pennants line the walls.

Students meet regularly with counselors and participate in extracurricular activities, including plays and debates. For years before the pandemic, White ran college trips to Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida. “Places they’ve never been, things they’ve never seen,” he said, recalling taking students on a tour of the Everglades. “I mean just for her to see and take in all that was so big and so huge.”

The school has a long tradition of gathering in the gym before classes for the morning get-together, where students say hello to each other, wish each other a happy birthday or thank the teachers for helping them through a difficult one the day before supported the lesson. It’s a practice that makes every student feel welcome and respected, White said, which translates into academic success.

Zowie Boyd, an eighth grader, called Center City a “second family,” something students missed about virtual learning.

“It wasn’t a good time for me,” said Keniya Brown, a seventh grader, of the time she spent studying through a computer screen. “But coming back to school where you have people who understand you and have known you for a while… makes it easier.”

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