Invest in middle school students to set up future success
Two years ago, I wrote about the benefits of after-school programming in this opinion piece. My premise was that, despite a litany of evidence showing need, Connecticut lacks adequate after-school options for families. Further, these programs are cost effective when lasting relationships between organizations are formed, pointing to Dwight Hall at Yale’s collaboration with New Haven Public Schools and caring funders like the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund.
Today, we are sharing results. In 2017, we had just completed our fourth cohort and 12th total year. At the time, written reflections revealed the depth of the experience, and survey data showed us that students broadly felt inspired and would repeat the experience. While it is always reassuring to see smiles on students’ faces and hear positive things from families, mentors, and teachers, we must continue to ask: “Does it make any difference?” The Marie and John Zimmermann Fund’s research shows that this program’s participants achieve high school graduation at a high rate, yet was this true for our students? And, how likely is it that our students will be able to succeed beyond high school?
Sustained relationships with caring adults are strongly linked to outcomes like high school success, but is it possible to know that our students went above and beyond to become high achievers? New Haven Promise, a college scholarship program for New Haven Public School students with high qualification standards, provides an excellent opportunity to explore this question. In 2018, our third cohort of students from the Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program (J-Z AMP™) would be eligible to graduate from high school and we applied New Haven Promise as the litmus test for our students’ achievements. We were heartened to discover that our mentees who were struggling academically at the start of sixth grade were just as likely to become Promise Scholars as the average New Haven high school graduate. In fact, 35.7% of our eligible mentees earned the distinction.
The fact that our mentors gain some value from their participation is a very welcome outcome. The program cannot exist without their dedicated efforts. While mentors might forego certain experiences during college because of their three-year commitment, it is clear that the impact on their personal and professional lives is meaningful and lasting. The current student program coordinators, all fourth- year students in Yale College are Zalma Vivanco, Chevonne Parker, and Elizabeth Olatunji.
Investment in middle school students who enter sixth grade needing support in math and reading achieves lasting results through and beyond high school. Our data only adds to broad evidence proving that quality after school programs work. Our program provides a cost effective and replicable model that is shared with Sacred Heart University, Trinity College, and Fairfield University. College students, even if a transient population, can make a real difference by committing to be present in the communities where they live.
Further, our evidence shows that college students get as much, if not more, from the experience of mentorship. Five years after college graduation, a former mentor who is now a physician specializing in adolescent health states that “she draws on this experience often when serving as a leader in other settings, including working in the hospital.” Another mentor who currently works at Facebook shared that “learning to manage a classroom was much harder than any similar endeavor in a corporate setting; I think those skills played a part in helping me succeed after college.”
It is the role of universities, as permanent fixtures, to make a commitment to after-school programs in their host communities. Forming lasting relationships with nearby middle schools will benefit local school-aged children while enhancing the college student experience. Now in its 15th year, Dwight Hall at Yale is proud to run J-Z AMP™ in partnership with schools to support student success. Dwight Hall at Yale encourages others to follow in this mold.
In the meantime, we look forward to reporting on the success of our fourth cohort of students, who are on track to graduate high school in 2021.
Mark Fopeano is the Program Manager for Dwight Hall at Yale. Marquita Taylor manages the J-Z AMP program at Celentano and Wexler- Grant. Learn more about the Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program model here.
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