Impact Insights

Improving academic grades to wrap up the school year

Lana’s HIT coaches work on improving academic grades and keeping their students engaged over the summer break.

Students and teachers at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, DC are gearing up for the end of the school year. This involves preparing for final exams and student portfolio presentations. There is a palpable energy here: a mix of tension, anxiety, and excitement. As teachers and former students, we can all relate. With the end of the school year comes the wrapping up of the High-Impact Tutoring (HIT) programming with the current group of students. My focus has been on improving academic grades with students who already have high attendance rates.

When students are “struggling” academically, you must prioritize dialogue that empowers them to be candid about their class engagement and participation.

Toju Omatete

My approach with this group was guided by the mantra above, knowing full well that their challenges extend beyond the classroom – beyond a discussion of their grades. I spent a lot more time in their classrooms than I did with previous cohorts observing and assessing their engagement and participation. The trend with most students was similar: disengagement, distractedness, and disruptiveness. I used this information to fuel all interactions I had with program participants. The teachers have their hands full managing the classroom every day. I had my hands full getting these students to articulate their perspectives and rationales around their class participation. I encouraged them to take a proactive approach to their learning.

Making positive behavior changes

Overall, we made progress towards turning bad habits around. My previous article reported that there were some grade improvements with F grades improving to C grades! But I also stated that habits are hard to reverse; it takes time for the work to bear fruit. I work with each group of students for just a semester. That gives us enough time for some of the conversations and “lessons” in the HIT sessions to start sinking in. But we all know it takes longer than a semester for habits and behaviors to change. No students start off with academic profiles of straight F grades; it takes time and setbacks to reach that point.

Similarly, the path back to academic excellence will take time, commitment, patience, and some degree of belief.  One semester with the HIT program is only a starting point for these students. I know how easily students can jump into the summer break and forget all their personal and academic progress. But these are the habits we are trying to break.

Continuing academic engagement

So, I will admit to sharing some of that anxiety and concern for my students as we head towards final examinations and the summer break. I am as concerned about their final grades as they are. But while most of them see it as an endpoint, I see it as a starting point. I encourage them to consider taking summer school classes and keeping some degree of engagement with their academic challenges as they move onto the 10th grade.

I already know that, for some students (including some HIT participants) repeating the 9th grade is a strong possibility, and we need to prepare them for that conversation. Whatever the case may be, I will be at TMA this summer working with students. I will do my absolute best to make sure they stay engaged and connected to their academic progressions even as they enjoy their summer!

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