February 2013

This month our blog features Rei Champion, fellow at Prospect Hill Academy. Enjoy!

~Sahar

Personalization: One Size Does Not Fit All

I find myself at a point of reflection as I cross the halfway point of my year of service with the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship. My project focuses on the expansion of Prospect Hill Academy’s existing Academic Pursuits of Excellence (APEX) program to 7th and 8th grade students. After establishing the program’s framework I am centered on evaluating my program’s performance. This includes soliciting feedback from my colleagues, supervisors, peers and advisers   It also involves evaluating attendance and performance data we collect daily. I have tweaked our program structure and materials to accommodate the individual needs of our student population. It is with great pride that I impart my recruitment efforts have secured over 50 new volunteer tutors!

The year thus far has been a wonderful learning experience for me and the youth I work with. As the end of the academic year quickly approaches I’ve been asked to consider my legacy. Will my work have a lasting impact at PHA? How can the design of APEX be adapted to support the next generation of scholars? Will the students in my program remember my work as they transition into high school? At the moment there are no clear answers to these questions. I’ve accepted that there may never be. I will instead invest this time and energy to building a strong academic support program that fits the specific demands of my youth.

There are several elements of the Academic Pursuits of Excellence (APEX) program. We offer a Homework Club, which is studious environment for students to complete homework after school. This is open both to students formally enrolled in APEX and to those who are not. We also place 12th Grade Teaching Assistants in classrooms to support teachers and their students. Direct Tutoring support is available to children after school and also during structured work time on Wednesdays. Lastly, we offer Saturday School. This is a great opportunity for students to receive individualized academic support. Adults who traditionally cannot make after school tutoring sessions spend their Saturday mornings working with our kids. We have partnered with businesses, universities and local organizations such as Boston Volunteers and Boston Cares to bring volunteers on campus in recent months!

As I expand APEX I always seek to align my work with the mission and values of our campus. As a charter school, PHA’s mission is to prepare each student for success in college, inspire a lifelong love of learning, and foster responsible citizenship. The academic experience at PHA is founded on many values, but I find personalization to be the most relevant to my work.

“At Prospect Hill Academy, we are unwavering in our desire to know each student well. Research has proven that students who feel connected to at least one adult in their schools fare better academically and socially than their peers who do not, and we therefore invest significant resources in reaching out to families and networking with one another to support the whole child.”

This means developing an after-school plan that is unique to every student and preparing materials that cater to multiple intelligences. When pairing students with tutors it’s very important to find the “right” match. This can be challenging given conflicting schedules and interests. It can also be intimidating for a child to work with a stranger whom they don’t know or trust. Some of our 7th and 8th graders are experiencing tutoring for the first time in APEX! These relationships must be positive, flexible and supportive every time. It is difficult work, but the rewards are immeasurable. The student is receiving the academic support they need while also building genuine relationships with caring adults.

At this point you may be asking: “is it all about the academics”? Serving in a school environment can feel strictly academic, but we have lots of fun here too!  In January we took a small cohort of students skating at Frog Pong in Boston Common. It was a great way to foster personal relationships with my kids. Coming up later in the school year are trips to the Museum of Science and an end-of-the-year celebration at Six Flags!

Thanks for taking the time to read! If you’re interested in volunteering to work with the talented youth at Prospect Hill Academy please contact me at rchampion@prospecthillacademy.org.

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Frog Pond Field Trip!

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