This year’s upcoming state testing season is particularly important to the fate of a handful of Waco ISD schools, so the local NAACP chapter and other local groups are starting a new after-school support initiative.
The Lean on Me Mondays program will put need-to-know skills for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness at the forefront. The NAACP, the Concerned Citizens Coalition, sororities, fraternities, churches and other volunteers will gather 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. each Monday at the Dewey Community Center for the next seven weeks to support third- through eighth-grade students from J.H. Hines Elementary School, G.W. Carver Middle School and Indian Spring Middle School.
Dinner will be provided, and tutors will work with students to reinforce STAAR skills in reading, math, writing, science and social studies. Prekindergarten through second-grade students will also be able to get ahead of the curve with work on the same subjects, NAACP President Peaches Henry said.
“There are people in these schools who are volunteering on a regular basis, and we’re tapping them as well,” Henry said. “People already in the schools are going to come out again Monday night. All I’m trying to do is pull everybody’s efforts together for this last crunch.”
Organizers have consulted with local teachers to make sure needs are met, and the effort will take at least 100 volunteers each Monday, she said.
It is easy for families and students to get behind a winning athletic team, but it is more difficult to get community buy-in to support students in something like STAAR testing, Henry said.
“Even when it comes to basketball games here, we have no problem paying to see their child progress in athletics,” G.W. Caver Principal Alonzo McAdoo said. “I love athletics, but what about on the academic side? This is free. It’s about getting them to those types of events to see them grow academically. And even I as a principal here have to do a better job. … I’ve got to help put my parents in a better position to be those advocates and be able to see what gains their kids are making.”
The three schools Lean on Me Mondays is focused on, along with Alta Vista Elementary School and Brook Avenue Elementary School, could be closed by the state if they fail state academic standards again this year. The district is developing an in-district charter proposal with Prosper Waco that would keep the schools open, but the change would not be necessary if they perform well enough on STAAR tests in May.
No child from any campus will be turned away from the Monday tutoring program, Henry said.
Before this school year, many residents have not felt welcomed by the district, and a misconception that students cannot transcend the obstacles of poverty has persisted, Henry said. When residents feel unwelcome, they do not engage, she said.
“Children know how you think about them, and when we expect them to do better, they do,” Henry said. “We’re entering a new era where the community is standing up and saying, ‘We’re not going to take that attitude anymore.’ ”
District officials and campus principals have held numerous family engagements activities to rebuild rapport within the community.
Janet Joiner, a G.W. Carver math instructional specialist, said the Lean on Me Mondays effort shows the growing shift in community support. Joiner has been on the campus the last four years, was a teacher in the district for 24 years and served as the math content specialist for the whole district for six years before moving to Carver.
She is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which has been sending volunteers to schools throughout the year and is one of several organizers for Monday’s event.
“Since we’ve had a change in leadership, I think we’ve seen a little bit of a shift. We burned some bridges years back and parents kind of stood back after the closing of some schools,” Joiner said. “Now they see that we have some support, and can say, ‘I can go to the school. I can come and ask questions, and I can call the school.’ I think they’re feeling more confident.”
The first 50 students who attend will get a gift card, and there is a chance for prizes as learning incentives every week, Henry said.
Churches or other organizations that want to help can donate for food, drinks and study materials for each Monday night by contacting Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 733-5261.
Anyone who needs a ride can also contact Henry.
Volunteers are lined up for the first Monday, but anyone interested should still contact Henry, in case some volunteers cannot attend, she said.