The Promise Fellow
Though graduation rates continue to climb in nearly every state in the country, the national average is still only 81 percent of high school students graduating within the typical four-year high school career. Reasons why the remaining 19 percent fail to procure a diploma are varied, so naturally the solutions to this problem have to be numerous, or at minimum, flexible.
It’s because of the students that traditionally “fall through the cracks” that AmeriCorps has developed the different educational programs that they have, such as Reading Corps and Math Corps. But it’s a lesser-known program under the AmeriCorps umbrella, the Promise Fellows, that focuses on raising the graduation rate by means of casting a wider net to students in need.
“I would pull (my students) out of classes intermittently and help them get caught up. Be a mentor for them, because a lot of these students don’t have anyone to talk to, or may or may not have (struggles outside of school),” said Sadie Blake, Greenway High School’s Promise Fellow.
A mentor more than a tutor, Blake’s experience as a Promise Fellow largely consisted of encouraging her students to be more self-reliant and building their confidence. Especially for students who have fallen behind in class due to situations outside of the classroom, even the daily course load can appear daunting. But over the few months that she spent at Greenway, each of the students Blake worked with showed a marked improvement in attendance, behavior, and course work (the ABCs of the Promise Fellow).
Blake was brought to the school in a joint collaboration between the school district and United Way of 1000 Lakes. According to United Way Executive Director Kim Brink Smith, the Promise Fellow program aligns with the goals to help area youth thrive. As a community-centered non-profit, United Way of 1000 Lakes is continuously looking for opportunities to assist the next generation of citizens during their formative years. Smith worked with Greenway earlier in the school year to bring in a fellow in the hope that this style of mentorship program would have the results they anticipated. Greenway High School Principal Jeff Britten breaks the student body population down generally that 85 percent of students in any school will be successful with regular instructional delivery. Another five percent on top of that are students that will require special education programming. The other 10 percent in the middle are typically students who may be struggling and who can benefit from additional support.
As part of a greater team of educators at Greenway, Blake worked with just over 20 students in both seventh and eighth grade, which comprise 14 percent of the student body. But even beyond the statistics that showed improved attendance, behavior, and course work, Blake noted that she saw students working harder at school and becoming more engaged with their assignments.“By the end of the school year, I saw them going up to talk to teachers on their own, and taking more control of their (studies),” said Blake.
This fall, Blake will be starting the next chapter of her life teaching at a charter school in Minneapolis, and so will not be returning to Greenway as the district’s Promise Fellow. Because of the success after only one semester of the program, Smith is hoping to work with other area school districts who may be interested in bringing in additional intervention staff for at-risk students. Smith noted that having United Way of 1000 Lakes involved will make it easier for any school interested to bring in a Promise Fellow, since they can act as the grant host for multiple districts. For more information on the position, visit www.unitedwayof1000lakes.org/Current-Openings.
“It’s a great program! You have a lot of support, and there’s a big community of AmeriCorps Promise Fellows at the state level,” said Blake. “You go to meetings and hear different stories and share your stories, and it’s just fun to see how much you’re really helping.”