‘A little push’ propels 7th-grader ahead

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Randall Robinson was down in the dumps when his 3rd-grade teacher suggested he stay at school a couple extra hours every day. But his brother Robert—an older and wiser 7th-grader—offered some reassurance: “Just be patient. You’ll get into it when you start learning stuff you didn’t think you could learn.”

Robert would know. Last year, he, too, was asked to participate in Morse Elementary School’s extended-day program. He wasn’t happy about it either, but he agreed. After Robert “got into it,” his grades improved, and his confidence grew.

“When Robert entered my 6th-grade class, I noticed that his 5th-grade scores were very low, but he showed me some initiative that I just didn’t see in his grades,” says his former teacher, Dorothy Henderson. “Even though he was shy and quiet, and never said a word if you didn’t call on him, I knew something more was there.”

Henderson thought the board’s new Lighthouse program would draw him out. Robert resisted. “I didn’t want to do it. I knew we’d be getting out of school late, and I didn’t think I’d have time to play,” recalls the avid basketball player.

But his mother, Linda Robinson, who frequently volunteers at the school, pushed him, gently but firmly. “Have you ever known a person who you knew could do something, but they just needed a push? That’s Robert and he needed to be pushed,” says his mother.

In 6th grade, Robert was reading at about the mid-5th grade level and doing math at the beginning 4th-grade level, she says. Even he recognized he was headed for trouble. “I really thought I was going to fail the Iowa Test and repeat 6th grade,” he says, admitting that he was falling behind in class, in part because he was easily distracted by other students, especially class clowns.

Says Henderson, “We do have a larger class during the day, 32 kids, and teachers have to follow a framework, teaching a certain number of skills each quarter as required by the state and the Chicago Board of Education. We don’t often have the opportunity to give additional time to kids. And our kids come to us so far behind, they do need the extra time on task.”

With a smaller class size and more time to work on core subjects, Robert’s work began to improve, and his grades rose from C’s to A’s and B’s.

“As his extended-day teacher and regular teacher, I knew what his deficits were,” says Henderson. “And we really worked intensively on improving his skills. When I knew he and some of the other kids didn’t grasp a skill taught during the regular school day, I’d go over those things with them again in the program until they understood it. With a smaller class size, about 15 kids, I was even able to work with them one on one.”

For Robert, the program paid off in spades. Near the end of 6th grade, he scored at the mid-7th-grade level in reading and the beginning 7th-grade level in math. He posted the highest test score gains among the children in his Lighthouse class, says Henderson.

“He was never a bad boy, loud or obnoxious, but he just wouldn’t say anything. He was just present,” recalls Henderson. “But after he had been in the program awhile, he started to volunteer for projects, do extra credit and speak up and answer questions. He was a different kid. He was even Student of the Month.”

This year Robert transferred to Crane High School’s preparatory program for 7th- and 8th-graders, where he and his mother report he’s doing well.

“Now, we have to get busy and start working on that 3rd-grader,” says Linda Robinson.