Board may repeat summer program that offers ‘step up’ to high school

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CPS officials expect to complete in February an analysis of the Step Up to High School initiative, to determine whether to offer the program again this summer.

About a third of eligible freshmen (2,200 out of 7,000) enrolled last summer in Step Up. Eligible students posted scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills that were above the cutoff for promotion to high school, but still below average.

Offered in the high schools students would attend, Step-Up included reading and math instruction and a daily 45-minute “survivor” session to teach skills crucial to success in high school, such as time management and study skills. Ultimately, CPS officials hope Step-Up will help lower the dropout rate.

“The feeling is that in general we want to do the program again,” says Ed Klunk, deputy director of the Office of High School Programs. But since Step-Up was fairly expensive—Klunk estimates $1.6 million, mostly for teacher salaries—CPS wants to make sure it’s having a significant academic impact before making a final decision, he says.

To that end, Step-Up students’ attendance, grades and credits earned will be compared to those of other freshmen who were not in the program, Klunk explains. The analysis will be completed following the first-semester grading period.

Some school officials, though, fear that by focusing largely on facts and figures, CPS will discount the impact the program had on easing students’ transition to high school.

“Though academics are obviously important, many students come in with nonacademic issues that need to be dealt with,” says James Breashears, principal at Robeson High. “Step Up made them feel better about themselves, made them feel that if they really work on it, it’s a certain possibility that they’ll be successful in high school and graduate with their classmates.”

Rosemarie Nichols, who oversaw Step Up at Robeson, says people who are not in schools regularly do not always realize how difficult it can be for students to move from elementary to high school, especially to a large school like Robeson.

“If kids don’t make the transition successfully early on, they won’t want to come to school,” Nichols says. “We understand that it’s important to see how these kids are fitting into their schools,” Klunk says; a CPS team has been talking with counselors to get a sense of Step-Up’s qualitative impact. “So far, everyone we’ve talked to about the social benefits of Step Up has reported very positive results.”

Following are updates on the progress of three Step-Up students from Clemente High. (See September 2003 Catalyst for profiles of 6 students from Clemente and Robeson.)

Theresa Velazquez

Clemente High

From day one, Theresa Velazquez felt prepared for high school. She knew the building better than most of her classmates, and she had made friends with some of her peers. She knew tests were going to be longer and harder, and she geared herself up to participate more in class discussions.

“You have to speak up in high school if you don’t know what’s going on or need help,” Theresa says. “Step Up taught me how to voice my opinions in class.”

A couple of weeks before the end of the first quarter, she was on track to get all A’s. But she says she “let her guard down,” and ended up with B’s and one A—a respectable showing, but not what she’s aiming for next time. Says Theresa, “I want to get straight A’s, and I know I can.”

Steven Beaudion

Clemente High

Steven Beaudion wasn’t thrilled to give up four weeks of his summer for more school, but he now credits Step Up with giving him a head start as a freshman.

“I was ready for anything that came in because I had a taste of what it would be like,” he says. Steven also made some close friends, and together they outlined a list of goals, with ‘graduate on time’ at the top of the list. To do that, he will have to stay on track academically. His first-quarter grades weren’t stellar—he earned B’s and C’s, and one D—but they were an improvement over the C’s and D’s he says he earned at Darwin Elementary.

Justin Merrick

Clemente High

Thanks to Step-Up, Justin Merrick developed a list of ambitious goals: earn a 3.7 overall GPA, participate in sports, have more credits at graduation than anyone else, and go to college to become a lawyer.

“I put a lot into the program, and I’m seeing the results now,” says Justin. He’s starting to enjoy his least favorite subject—reading—through increased interaction and projects. His first quarter, he earned B’s, C’s and one D.

“Step Up was to get us to the point where high school could teach us,” Justin says. “We had to meet them halfway.”

Intern John Myers contributed to this report.