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Closing the learning gap

Mentors to help with minority achievement

Mentors to help with minority achievement

March 09, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

HAGERSTOWN- The Washington County Public Schools system is calling on high school students to help close the academic achievement gap between minorities and whites, and low-income students and those of higher incomes.

A peer mentoring program that started recently at South Hagerstown High School marks the first time the school system has directly involved students in the efforts to narrow the academic achievement gap, said Robert "Bo" Myers, executive director of secondary school administration.

Students of all ethnic backgrounds will be paired with minority, low-income or other at-risk students who have requested mentors, said Carl Brindley, the South High instructor in charge of the program.

Students will meet throughout the week and on weekends, Brindley said.

The program is to expand to North Hagerstown High School next year, Myers said.

South High is in the process of selecting student mentors. So far, three students have requested a student mentor, Brindley said. The school hopes to pair at least five students with mentors.

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"You don't come to school and work in a vacuum," Myers said. "This program will allow us to see the problem through the students' eyes."

In the past, administrators pored over statistics, reports and research, Myers said. The mentoring program will add the "human factor" to efforts to close the gap, Myers said.

Minorities make up 46 percent of the 6,355 high-schoolers in Washington County Public Schools.

Nearly one out of five minority students failed the state-mandated algebra exam in 2005, according to the most recent figures available from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Asian students were the only minority group to have more than half of its population pass the state exams, according to state data.

The numbers are similar for the English, biology and government exams.

Closing the academic achievement gap is closely tied to the aims of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. By law, schools must show progress by increasing scores of all students or risk losing federal money.

Brindley, head of South High's math department, said outside social forces are one of the reasons the academic achievement gap persists.

The mentoring program's main goal is to counteract "all of the myths and the junk they're sold by society, that these kids live their lives by," Brindley said.

"We're talking about walking alongside them and helping them achieve the dreams they may have that have been squashed," Brindley said.

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