Closing the achievement gap, one student at a time | October 30, 2015 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 30, 2015

Closing the achievement gap, one student at a time

New tutoring program supports young East Palo Alto, low-income students

by Elena Kadvany

Can one-on-one, targeted tutoring provided to disadvantaged students in their very first years of school help reduce the achievement gap?

The Palo Alto school district and one East Palo Alto youth program think — and hope — so. The school district has partnered with East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring (EPATT) to launch Project Rally, a pilot early literacy program that targets primarily Palo Alto Unified students who are from East Palo Alto.

Project Rally is one of the first tangible results out of the district's minority achievement and talent development advisory committee, which issued in May a set of strategic recommendations to address Palo Alto's longstanding achievement gap. The recommendations strive to shift what the committee's final report described as a "tale of two cities: a Palo Alto for a high-achieving majority of students, with access to enrichment opportunities and high expectations, and a Palo Alto in which access and expectations for students of color and students from lower-resourced backgrounds are limited."

The committee's work — which emphasized the powerful, long-term impacts that early education and interventions can have on student success — dovetailed with a similar effort at East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring, a nonprofit that provides tutoring and tennis lessons to K-12 students and coaching to their parents. EPATT was hoping to expand to provide individualized literacy support to young students from East Palo Alto who attend school in Palo Alto through the district's Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP), said EPATT Academic Director Kesha Weekes.

"Our big thing is helping kids access the curriculum that's in front of them because they're in Palo Alto," Weekes said. "They're getting the best of the best — the best teachers, the best resources, the best curriculum. Palo Alto has the luxury of reading specialists, aides, TOSAs (teachers on special assignment) — all these awesome things, and yet you can be a student and go through kindergarten to 12th grade and come out undereducated after all that. We want to bridge that gap."

So EPATT teamed up with the district to launch Project Rally, which now provides about 23 kindergarteners and first-graders with literacy tutoring and tennis lessons.

On a recent Monday afternoon at Fairmeadow Elementary School, a group of about 10 first-graders sat at tables in a classroom, each with his or her own tutor, practicing sounding out each letter of the alphabet. Outside, a group of about 10 kindergarteners learned fundamentals of tennis with two EPATT tennis instructors. The groups switched after an hour.

There is no set curriculum; rather, these students' teachers provided Project Rally with in-depth assessments of the students' strengths and weaknesses in a range of categories, from phonetic awareness to social-emotional skills. Tutors adjust their sessions to what each student needs to work on.

"The point of one-to-one is to be exactly what somebody needs," Weekes said.

This group of children will receive individualized attention three days a week for the entire year, with some time also dedicated to social-emotional learning and developing skills like how to listen to instructions and how to deal with disappointment or conflict in the classroom.

Weekes said EPATT conducted a focus group this summer with kindergarten and first-grade teachers in Palo Alto to talk about what they would like this population of students to work on. Among their observations, the teachers said that "by and large, students coming from East Palo Alto are passive in their learning," Weekes said.

Project Rally, she hopes, will help instill in these students at a young age a different mindset: "Learning is not something that happens to me; it's something that I do."

Project Rally also plans to work with the students' parents. The minority achievement committee found through focus groups with parents and teachers that there are many barriers that prevent parents from being as involved in their children's education: transportation, time constraints, child care needs, language differences and a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to navigate the school district.

"These parents have the same aspirations for their children as those from high SES (socioeconomic status) families but additional support from the district could have a significant impact on their engagement and connectedness," the committee's final report reads.

As a pilot program, Project Rally began this fall at only two schools (Fairmeadow and Hoover Elementary), but the district and EPATT hope to expand next year to include second-graders and students from other schools. And while the program primarily aims to serve East Palo Alto students, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch are also accepted.

The program will use existing school district assessments to track the students' progress throughout the year, Weekes said.

Staff Writer Elena Kadvany can be emailed at ekadvany@paweekly.com. Families who are interested in applying to the program can visit projectrally.net. Project Rally is also looking for more volunteer tutors; those interested can email info@projectrally.net.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 30, 2015 at 9:42 am

no. A better way to spend the money would be to train parents and teachers to at least pretend that other races or economic levels may possibly have a child smarter than theirs. I know if you expect less, you will get less.


18 people like this
Posted by Everyone
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 30, 2015 at 11:10 am

This is great for them but when they hit middle and high school, that's where they won't be able to keep up and the achievement gap will prevail. At least they will know how to read. Our Palo Alto students even have problems with keeping up with the academics at times and have to turn to tutors.

Our schools should be for Palo Altans only. Outsiders just feel second-class - the system doesn't work and they don't mingle with Palo Alto students. Feeling always behind the 8 Ball isn't good for their confidence. Hopefully, the new EPA school will work for them. Someone will call me racist and elitist (which I am not), but truth is, students do better being with others who are of the same background, despite the hope of the idealists. Why be in a classroom where everyone is understanding the subject but you? Better to be in a classroom where no one understands it so the teacher elaborates more. Then, they can learn instead of always feeling left behind when they leave the classroom.


15 people like this
Posted by akohrman@stanford.edu
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 30, 2015 at 1:03 pm

akohrman@stanford.edu is a registered user.

As a tutor in Project Rally, I can say first-hand that the program is definitely making a difference in its students' lives. All of the kids I've tutored have improved in the few weeks since the program started. And their parents are learning that they need to be more involved in their child's academic life for the program to be most effective.


14 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm

There are many pedagogical concepts out there, but they are very stale...because they don't work within a union-controlled public system. By the time the previous one is shown to be a failure, the next new idea emerges...also destined to be a failure.

The only real reform to is to allow all possible approaches to be tested, and then freely selected for the best solutions. That will only happen via education vouchers...then the parents can make their own choice of where to send their kids.


2 people like this
Posted by @Craig Laughton
a resident of another community
on Oct 30, 2015 at 2:42 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 9:12 am

Why is the solution to every problem something that assumes children have infinite time in the day?


2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "So EPATT teamed up with the district to launch Project Rally, which now provides about 23 kindergarteners and first-graders with literacy tutoring and tennis lessons."

Tennis lessons for very young children?? Is there an explanation for this?

1. My understanding is that children of this age should be participating in team sports as part of learning social skills.

2. My understanding is that tennis is a horrible sport for young bodies, both from the impacts (even with reduced weight balls) and from the unnatural and stressful arm movements -- much worse than pitching a baseball overhand (tennis elbow and tennis shoulder are common injuries to teen and pre-teen tennis players).

3. My understanding is that tennis is played by such a minuscule portion of high school students that this will not be helpful. Similarly, when I look at high-tech companies there is little evidence of tennis as having much presence -- companies that are on campuses don't seem to have vast stretches of tennis courts (use Earth view in Google Maps) and companies elsewhere seem to have little access to tennis courts.


1 person likes this
Posted by Voucher Killer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2015 at 4:53 pm

To nail the school voucher coffin shut, require schools taking vouchers to accept every applicant or hold a blind lottery.


5 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2015 at 6:52 pm

>To nail the school voucher coffin shut, require schools taking vouchers to accept every applicant or hold a blind lottery.

I am confident that every school taking vouchers will have its own set of standards. The parents, who will be the ones cashing in the vouchers, will make the choice of where to put their kids. Just think of vouchers as scholarships.

No need to be talking about coffins...just celebrate all the choices!


3 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 31, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Are vouchers even on the horizon? After experience with Palo Alto elementary schools, I wondered why anyone would choose private. After Palo Alto middle schools, I'm wondering where are the vouchers?


5 people like this
Posted by June
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm

" After Palo Alto middle schools, I'm wondering where are the vouchers?"

I share your frustration. My own children were very frustrated with middle school. If vouchers were available, I would have used them!

I think Craig is right about having choices.


7 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 1, 2015 at 3:14 pm


I feel my two children received a wonderful education from PAUSD. I feel so lucky that we live in Palo Alto. Of course I had to live in a really tiny house to give them this education. But hey, tiny houses are in now.

I have friends living in other parts of the United States and in just talking to them I realize our education opportunities far exceed theirs. Keep it up PAUSD.


2 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2015 at 3:29 pm

>I have friends living in other parts of the United States and in just talking to them I realize our education opportunities far exceed theirs. Keep it up PAUSD.

In general, I kind of agree...but that does not mean that parents should not be able to make their own choices. Educational vouchers are about choice. PAUSD should not be scared about educational choice, if it feels it is serving the majority of PA parents.

I think PAUSD is scared of the teachers' union, which is frightened of choice. The palpable question is why?


2 people like this
Posted by Voucher Killer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2015 at 5:55 pm

"Educational vouchers are about choice."

Thank you for submitting your child's application to attend The Silicon Valley Choice Academies, a premier voucher-supported institution.

Your voucher appears to be in good order.

Unfortunately, however, our Parents Admissions Advisory Committee has determined that your child is deficient in one or more of our critical admissions selection criteria.

We extend our sincere best wishes that another institution will find your child more suitable for inclusion in its student body.

Most sincerely
Dean of Admissions
The Silicon Valley Choice Academies


3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2015 at 7:18 pm

>We extend our sincere best wishes that another institution will find your child more suitable for inclusion in its student body.

And your point is?

Parents can choose what they want. If rejected at one place, they can pursue another place. Maybe the parents want discipline, religion, patriotism, socialism...whatever. But they should have that choice.


6 people like this
Posted by Voucher Killer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2015 at 8:48 pm

"And your point is?"

[Portion removed.] It's discrimination, underwritten by the taxpayers.

A school that takes tax dollars in the USA must admit anybody. No exceptions. That's what kills vouchers.


6 people like this
Posted by @VK
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2015 at 10:15 pm

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 2, 2015 at 12:59 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Voucher Killer - "A school that takes tax dollars in the USA must admit anybody. No exceptions. That's what kills vouchers."

You should check into college admissions sometime.


6 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

> It's discrimination, underwritten by the taxpayers.

Public schools discriminate on a regular basis (neighborhood preference, selective classes, sports teams, sibling preference, etc.). I still don't get your point. We have a state monopolistic system, currently, with little to no parental choice...vouchers would break up that monopoly and provide choice.


2 people like this
Posted by Voucher Killer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 2, 2015 at 2:59 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2015 at 4:04 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by @Craig Laughton
a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2015 at 5:02 pm

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2015 at 6:00 pm

VK beat around the bush, but he/she got the core concept right. Absent admissions selection by race, school vouchers is a dead idea.


3 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 10:12 am

Actually,the educational landscape is different now. What's possible because of technology is causing more amd more people to strike out on their own in unprecedented numbers. It's no longer necessary to go private. Khan Academy is just the tip of the iceberg. Wired magazine even wrote an editorial asking techies to stop abandoning the public schools (for independent learning, not private) and try to fix them.

People can already choose distance charters - and it is like a voucher, because many of those charters are public. They even provide the ability for families to have funds to spend on vetted educational vendors, that families often help the charters find and other families quickly vet. It's way more nimble than expecting a handful of bureaucrats to sift through materials they have no way to assess competently relative to an engaged open source community. So essentially, vouchers already exist for people shut out by districts like PAUSD.

People are going to abandon the public schools regardless of "vouchers". It is happening now, and there will be an avalanche at some point in a way the schools never saw coming if they do not look foward to and embrace the future. If public schools do not learn how to become more open source (honest, open, egalitarian, collaborative - and that has to be more than words, PAUSD - hint: leopard doesn't change its spots) in their interactions with families, they will be scrambling to cope the way the music industry and publishing industry did. Ultimately what happens will depend on whether public schools try to go on with business as usual (like PAUSD) or try to incorporate, embrace, and support the inevitable wave of individualization and independence in education.


Like this comment
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2015 at 3:43 pm

to "everyone"

Will you be going to the Martin Luther King celebration at your school? Will you call the kids and parents "them" and "they" or by their names. I guess you really do believe living in Palo Alto makes you smarter and better. Your notion that if "they" are not from Palo Alto, they will not understand instruction is scary. Educational "landscape" is different now- It has reverted to pre 1960 elitist ideas that are somehow supported. This is a public school with state mandates that you have no control of. Do your homework-get a tutor if you need one.


Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

Is anyone willing to say what a healthy or just achievement gap is, and to express it as numerically? I do buy in to the concept as a good thing, but if it's not properly defined, well, then it's just socialism.

I say this with Positive Mental Attitude, by the way.


4 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Nov 3, 2015 at 4:38 pm

"Is anyone willing to say what a healthy or just achievement gap is..."

I suppose "healthy or just" depends on which side of the gap your side is on.


Like this comment
Posted by Outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I think it is being measured by the end result and perceptions more than actual data. It would be really interesting to see data on how kids with tutors compare to those that do not. This measures quality of teaching more than a gap caused by race or economic level. Too bad we all need to get tutors to fill in missing instruction and now have to come up with extra cash for every kid to hire tutors just to be fair. Something is missing here.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 4, 2015 at 3:04 pm

"It would be really interesting to see data on how kids with tutors compare to those that do not."

What's the metric?


3 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm

[Post removed.]


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