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Achievement gap under attack with STAR power

A measurable achievement gap between black students and the rest of the Fox Cities’ student population is about to encounter a shining STAR — Students on Target to Achieve Results, a new program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley and its partner school districts and colleges.

STAR — implemented in February at Appleton’s Wilson Middle School and West High School, and Menasha’s Maplewood Middle School and Menasha High School — is seeking to improve academic achievement and cut the gap in graduation rates and college attendance in half through tutoring, homework help, study skills workshops, encouragement for more family involvement, mentoring and advocacy.

According to the Fox Cities LIFE (Leading Indicators For Excellence) Study, in 2016, white students in the Fox Cities had a graduation rate of 90 percent, while only 70 percent of their African American and black classmates graduated.

STAR got a boost in December from a $300,000 grant over three years from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, which is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, the J. J. Keller Foundation Inc. and other community partners.

Kayla McNamara, Director of Targeted Support Services for the Boys & Girls Clubs, said many factors may contribute to achievement disparities, including a lack of teachers of color, a lack of teachers trained in culturally relevant teaching methods, negative stereotyping, education policies and test bias. The Boys and Girls Clubs will be joined in the effort by area school districts, colleges and other community partners.

The Basic Needs Giving Partnership has awarded more than $1 million in grants to fight the causes of homelessness in the Fox Valley in each of its last three granting cycles, dating back to December 2016.

“This is a substantial amount of money coming from the philanthropic sector to help those in our community with the greatest need,” said Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “We have plenty of reason to feel proud about the caring nature of the people who live here and the businesses that operate in the Fox Valley region.”

STAR is based on a program with similar goals for Hispanic students in Northfield, Minn., home to St. Olaf College. ThedaCare’s Community Health Action Team (CHAT) researched the achievement gap and concluded the best model was Northfield’s TORCH (Tackling Obstacles and Raising College Hopes). It quickly raised graduation rates for Hispanic students from 36 percent to 98 percent, relying on frequent contact and guidance from adult mentors.

Other projects funded recently by the Basic Needs Giving Partnership were:

  • Homeless Connections — $266,000 over three years to create a day resource center for services for those who are homeless. Services would be offered by Homeless Connections, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities, Fox Valley Warming Shelter and St. Matthew Lutheran Church.
  • LEAVEN — $218,608 over three years for adding staff and database management tools for an expansion housing the new LEAVEN Community Resource Center in Menasha, with partners St. Vincent de Paul, Fox Valley Technical College and Energy Services Inc.
  • Fox Valley Technical College Foundation — $168,403 over three years to double the impact of its Education Advocate services by adding a second advocate to work with clients at LEAVEN, including satellite operations in Chilton, Hortonville, Seymour and New London. Partners are and Fox Valley Technical College.
  • Goodwill Industries — $69,180 over three years for the Almost Home program, which provides case management to help families achieve and retain safe, affordable housing. Fox Cities Habitat for Humanity is a partner with Goodwill for the program.

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