POOL program whets Beye students' appetites for learning

Students get help on reading, math, and fun field trips

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By DREW CARTER

Educators know that students returning in the fall can have forgotten as much as two months of learning. The problem is worse for kids already behind.

To keep kids' learning afloat over the summer, Beye Elementary School, 230 N. Cuyler Ave., invited some struggling students to dive into its POOL program.

The acronym stands for Putting Ourselves Into Overdrive for Learning, and the program brought about 15 rising fourth and fifth grade students into the school over the seven-week period between the end of school and the beginning of summer school on Aug. 1.

Beye Principal Jonathan Ellwanger had heard a conference speaker espouse the value of reading biographies of "overcomers"?#34;people who've overcome challenges and risen to success?#34;to help close the minority student achievement gap.

Struggling students hear the same message repeated: you're not keeping up, Ellwanger said. The message can be hard to overcome.

"That's a hard walk for some kids," Ellwanger said.

Having some leftover federal funding in his budget, the principal proposed a summer tutoring program to the School Leadership Team.

"Everybody thought it was a great idea," said Karen Berman, an SLT member and tutor with the school's BeyePASS program.

That program?#34;Beye People Assuring Student Success?#34;debuted last fall, and offered 24 tutors for students in third through fifth grades one-on-one tutoring during the school year.

Surveys show the program rewarded tutors with "huge satisfaction" over seeing academic skills build over the year, Berman said. Tutors saw the "need and benefit of one-on-one interaction," and many agreed to continue their commitment over the summer.

Federal Title I money paid for two teachers to oversee the program. Title I money is awarded yearly to schools for the express purpose of giving special attention to struggling students. Volunteerism paid for the rest of the program, Ellwanger said.

The program was free and voluntary to the students, who were identified by report card grades.

Students attended two sessions each week, with one hour each of reading and math. Fun was a key element to the program, organizers said.

On a third day each week, the group trekked to museums and other learning destinations. Asking for a show of hands of who'd already been to places such as Morton Arboretum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, or the DuSable Museum of African American History, few hands went up, Ellwanger said.

Making the program fun brought students together after much of the program was done one-on-one. And it helps instill a positive attitude about the school and learning that educators hope will carry over to the school year.

Beye has struggled in recent years with low scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, the standardized test the state uses to determine whether schools are making the grade as defined by No Child Left Behind laws.

Last year, Beye did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, with just 32 percent of African-American students making the grade in reading and 42 percent in math.

Results from the 2005 test have been released to schools, but not to the public. Ellwanger said results show that Beye has made improvements on the test.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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