Destination Graduation: AmeriCorps & United Way get students back on track in Math at Cottonwood High School!

Andrea Coxby Andrea Cox
Community Collaborations Director

In partnership with the AmeriCorps: Read. Graduate. Succeed initiative, United Way of Salt Lake supported placing high-quality AmeriCorps members throughout Jr. High’s and High Schools within our Promise Neighborhoods. Placing  AmeriCorps members was done with the intent of increasing high school graduation rates. AmeriCorps has traditionally focused on its highly-effective Read Today program, which helps elementary students reach academic proficiency in literacy. However, beginning Fall 2013, AmeriCorps expanded its focus to include secondary schools, and looked to United Way to help support that effort

Cottonwood High School 2013.

Cottonwood High School is the first high school that has become a Community School in Utah. Cottonwood High serves some of the most high-need communities in the state, including a high population of refugee and low-income families from South Salt Lake. One of Cottonwood High School’s academic goals is focused around getting and keeping students on track to graduate high school. Through meetings with the Cottonwood leadership, AmeriCorps staff, and United Way Community School Directors, two full-time AmeriCorps members were selected to support refugee students in math proficiency.

Math is the subject that students struggle with most. As math curriculum has evolved to fit what is called the “common core,” students and teachers have faced challenges in keeping up with these changes. With the valuable support of a full-time AmeriCorps member focused particularly on math proficiency, Cottonwood High School created a process that helped students understand the value of math for graduation.

Cottonwood High College Access Week 067

Justeena, the AmeriCorps member taking on this initiative, cultivated relationships with teachers and students that allowed her to gain the trust needed to be truly effective in helping students failing at math. She began by asking teachers to send her “any student who is failing that needs extra help!” She then recruited volunteers to come to the school and sit with students as they practiced math concepts and worked on homework assignments. As students began to demonstrate increased proficiency, Justeena, UWSL’s Community Collaborations Director Nate Salazar, and Cottonwood High’s Math teachers decided it was time for students to take accountability for their own learning. They created “data walls,” which showed individual student scores on pre-tests and then selected a goal for students to meet by the end of the quarter. These posters were displayed in every classroom. Each student was given a famous mathematician or scientist’s name and encouraged to participate in after-school tutoring with community volunteers.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, the results were astounding!

One class demonstrated a 45.27 percent growth in math scores! There were individual students who experienced as high as a 70 percent increase in their individual growth! Many of these students are English language learners and  several were students who were failing their math courses when they started the quarter who are now scoring highest in their class! This process continued through 4th quarter with the same amazing results. Student were rewarded at the end of each quarter with a donut party; however, it was clear that the donuts were just the “icing on the cake.” The true changes were in student’s academic confidence and excitement about their own growth and ability!

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As we look towards next year, Cottonwood High School teachers, the AmeriCorps program, and United Way of Salt Lake will continue to support students and teachers to reach these important benchmarks that will prepare students for college and beyond!

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