Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass wants to use an academic version of its traditional mentoring program to close the achievement gap and raise test scores at schools including Lexington's William Wells Brown Elementary.
With a score of 34.4 out of 100, William Wells Brown Elementary was the lowest rated among elementary schools statewide in Kentucky's testing and accountability program in 2013-14.
Big Brothers Big Sisters has received a $30,000 grant from the Urban County Government, about half of the $62,000 it needs to hire a professional staff to start an academic mentoring program at William Wells Brown, said Glenn Means, Big Brothers Big Sisters director of development.
Now Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO Ralph Coldiron is hoping to find "another community partner" so that an academic mentoring program can be fully funded.
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"We're going to be able to roll this into every elementary school," Coldiron said. "This program could be the catalyst for how we deal with the achievement gap, how we help these students ... in crisis get over that hump and become proficient."
In Big Brother Big Sisters' regular program, people in the community are matched with children, one on one. Many of them are already helping with homework, said Natalie Thompson, program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
In a version of the organization's national Schools' Plus Program that the local staff wants to start at William Wells Brown in the fall of 2015, a volunteer meets at school with the child about one hour each week. Big Brothers Big Sisters' national Schools Plus program will be tailored to increase test scores at William Wells Brown.
The program would pair academic mentors with students for two years, beginning with 20 second-graders and expanding to 40 children, said Coldiron. One part-time staff member hired by Big Brothers Big Sisters would screen volunteers and enroll children in the program. One full-time Big Brothers Big Sisters staff person would be at the school full-time to work with the principal and staff.
Like several other Fayette County schools, William Wells Brown is classified by the state as "needs improvement" as opposed to "proficient" or "distinguished." William Wells Brown also is classified as a "focus" school, meaning it is underperforming in closing achievement gaps between poor, minority and disabled students and other students.
The goal for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program will be for children to test proficient in the state's accountability system.
Students in grades 3 through 8, 10 and 11 participate in the test called K-PREP (Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress), which is designed to measure how well they learn material that Kentucky requires in reading, math, science, social studies and writing.
William Wells Brown principal Jay Jones Jr. said it would be important for students to have a mentor for two full years before they take the test for the first time.
Parents also will be involved, said Coldiron.
Additionally, guidance counselors will tell Big Brothers Big Sisters staff in what subject areas individual children need help. Volunteers will be recruited based on their strengths.
A volunteer, said Jones, would be "someone to motivate them and really target the skills they are lacking."