Students ‘rise’ to school challenge

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Wilson Middle School RISE instructional aide Jessica Walsh (left) helps students Emily Harowski and Anthony Samons with a lesson Thursday.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE — Thanks to a new program at Wilson Middle School, grades are going up.

Reaching Independent Scholastic Excellence, which began at the school this year, helps students struggling in several classes to catch up.

To qualify for the program, students must be earning E’s in three or more classes. They then meet two to three times a week during their physical education classes with the program’s instructional aides, Mark Rutkowski, Aaron Kieltyka, Angela Warren and Jessica Walsh, and attend a one-on-one tutoring session with them before or after school each week.

Each instructional aide also is a certified teacher. Students are usually in the program for 10 weeks. If their grades do not improve, they may stay on for additional periods of time.

The RISE program is funded by money from Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which distributes funding to school districts with more than 40 percent of students coming from low-income families.

In its first year, teachers have seen grades improve, Rutkowski said. He said the program offers benefits to students that normal classroom instruction cannot.

“A classroom teacher can’t really go back three and four chapters,” he said. “We can do that.”

When a new student comes into the program, the work starts at their locker.

“We sort through everything,” Rutkowski said. “We go paper-by-paper and ask, ‘Do you still need this? Is this still current? If not, get rid of it.’”

He said organization is the biggest pitfall for many of the students that come into the program.

“We give them binders and folders,” he said. “Some of them, we have to show them how to use them. A lot of them they come in and they don’t have notebooks. They just haven’t needed them before. Middle school’s a little different.”

Sixth-grader Emily Harowski, 11, said she saw her grades go up after she learned organizational skills from the program.

“At the time I wasn’t organized,” she said. “Everything was all cluttered in my locker and my bookbag. All my missing assignments were in that clutter.”

After their lockers are cleaned, the instructional aides collect missing assignments from teachers and help students complete them. They then address past lessons the student may not fully grasp and new lessons they are struggling with. They also review test-taking and study skills.

Seventh-grader Anthony Samons, 13, saw his grades improve after he completed the program then asked if he could continue on with additional tutoring.

“If I left, I may have been dropping,” he said. “But then I thought to myself, ‘If I stayed in it, my grades will stay higher.’”

Rutkowski said a few students have started out doing very well in the program, but saw their grades begin to slip after leaving it. He said he and his colleagues monitor the grades of students who leave the program and ask them to re-enter the program if there is a drop-off.

“The biggest thing we tell them is that they’re never gonna get caught up by just being here,” he said. “They still need to do their homework at home.”

Derek Patterson, 13, and in the eighth grade at the school, said the biggest problem he had before coming into the program was a lack of time to finish his assignments at home. Now that he is halfway through the 10 weeks, he said he has already seen his math and science grades improve.

“It gives me a little extra time to get my homework done if I don’t get it done at school,” he said.

Warren said the program is able to tailor an action plan directly to each student’s needs.

“Each student has a unique situation,” she said. “They might be struggling in one subject, it could be organization, there could be things going on in the home, because we work with a small group of students, very often one on one, we get to know the student very well, so we can tell what issues they have and what needs they have and tailor it to them.”

When students finish the program, teachers remark on the improvement in their attitudes, behavior and productivity, Warren said.

Kieltyka said the biggest advantage for the students is confidence.

“They felt so overhwlemed before,” he said. “Now it’s like, ‘I can do this.’ It changes their outlook on things.”department says the layoffs may include six to 12 firefighters instead of the entire department.

Jeff O’Riley, president of the department’s union, International Association of Firefighters Local 1410, thanked residents at the Tuesday’s City Council meeting for their continued support of the department and urged them to continue to contact the mayor and council about the issue.