• College readiness program helps struggling school Published September 2012 Voice

    (This story was written by NEA for its Priority Schools Campaign)

    Good ideas come at any time. Playing with your children. Cooking. During the commute. Albert Einstein once asked, “Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?”

    Ed Small, principal of Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, got inspiration knocking pins during a bowling game.

    Before moving to “The Park,’’ Small had significant success at raising student achievement through collaborative efforts among educators and administrators at Delcroft School. So when the opportunity came in August 2010 to manage the only high school in the Southeast Delco School District, he gladly accepted.

    Small became principal of Park in large part because of the School Improvement Grant (SIG). The federal grant provided $2.6 million because it had struggled academically for the past 10 years.  As part of SIG, the school leadership adopted a transformational model to help raise student achievement, which required the school to get a new principal.

    “Leadership counts when it comes to transforming a school that needs extra attention and resources,” said Carolyn Karcher, president of the Southeast Delco Education Association. “We were excited to know Small came to us with a strong background in school reform.”

    One night, Small went out with an old college friend.  What started out as a back-and-forth buddy conversation about his new career turned into a brainstorming session on how to prepare and move his students toward college readiness.

    The newly arrived principal noticed some of his top students were not challenging themselves academically while other students were seeing a detachment between doing well in high school and getting into a good college.

    “Some of my high-performing students attempted to take the least rigorous courses. Although they’re good classes, it’s not what a college looks for,” said Small. “Other students were saying, ‘I’m going to study tonight so I can pass my test,’ rather than ‘I’m going to study tonight to become a doctor.’”

    After multiple brainstorming bowling games, Small came back to work with the idea of Rising Scholars, a program designed to prepare students for college by helping to change their mindset and create motivation to do well in school because of an end goal — college, career, and quality of life.

    Rising Scholars serves 130 students, who meet after school and every other Saturday to discuss various aspects of college: from the college application process, career exploration, and financial literacy to service learning, mastering college life, and leadership and mentoring programs. Students also go on college campus tours.

    Members of Rising Scholars have gone on four college campus tours. On one tour — to the University of Delaware — students stayed on campus for three nights, slept in dorm rooms, ate at the dining hall, and sat in on classes.

    Asiha Braxton, a senior and Rising Scholars member, is taking three AP classes, Spanish and physics, and still finds time to promote Rising Scholars.
    “I’ve recruited at least five people,” said Braxton. “I tell them this is a good opportunity to get the help you need to go to college.”

    Small runs the program through the help of several educators, including Southeast Delco Education Association member Erika Llewellyn. She teaches a reading class and is also charged with collecting data from standardized tests.

    When Llewellyn is not assisting her students or reviewing data, she helps with logistics for the college tours.

    “This program helps strengthen relationships between students and teachers,” said Llewellyn. “The main idea for a school that struggles is to get students engaged. Through these out-of-the-classroom bonds, we’re able to create interest in the program. And, we’re seeing students show up on Saturdays or snowy days — we’re seeing a strong motivation from them.”