Closing the Achievement Gap Through Mentorship and Civic Engagement
Website or social media url(s) (optional):
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Idea (hoping to get started in the future)
1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."
I have been volunteering in Gainesville, Florida since I was five and have had the opportunity to start and run nonprofits to help my community. When I learned about the achievement gap, I was determined I could make a difference. I became the first student to sit on the education committee of Gainesville for All, a grassroots organization working to close the achievement gap in Alachua County. As a part of the Education Committee, I spearheaded a campaign to create a student position on the School Board to ensure that the needs of minority students are being met and helped with a campaign to create an Equity Director position. I have spent the past year as student representative on the school board learning as much as possible and creating ideas to tackle this problem. I believe that we must close the achievement gap because every student deserves access to a quality education.
2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Due to differential access to resources, low-income and minority students are not attaining the same level of academic achievement as non-minority or higher income students. Alachua County has the highest achievement gap between black (29% pass rate) and white (74% pass rate) students across all sixty-seven counties. These students have skills and unique contributions that could help solve complex problems but are not currently being developed.
3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
In order to provide support to help minority and low-income students achieve their potential, we will individually pair underachieving elementary, middle, and high school students with University of Florida students, faculty/staff, and alumni based on student’s interests and career goals. Students who participate in this program will meet with their mentors during lunch to receive academic assistance, guidance with career plans, and assistance in creating a project that positively impacts the community.
Learning how to create and grow a community project will help the student learn skills valuable in the workforce such as leadership, money management, communication, teamwork, and responsibility. The community project format will be flexible enough that it can be catered to the student’s interest. This project along with tutoring will help the student satisfy the Florida Bright Futures volunteer hours, GPA, and testing score requirements. Bright Futures is a scholarship available to all Florida residents who meet certain requirements. The community project, higher GPA, and higher testing scores will also help in the college application or job search process.
4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
It is the beginning of Mark’s junior year. He is struggling in class clearly behind so his teacher recommends he join Standing Tall. First, he participates in a welcome call so that we can pair him with the best possible mentor. Next, he has a meeting with his teacher, parent, mentor, and a Standing Tall team member to set goals. He meets with his mentor three days a week during lunch. On Monday and Wednesday his mentor provides tutoring. Fridays are career advice and community project planning days. Mark loves art so he decides to do a fundraiser for art supplies and gather a team of volunteers teach hospitalized children to paint. Through his project, he learns money management, leadership, communication, and organization skills. After a year of tutoring, Mark is caught up with classes and is prepared for the SAT. He is accepted to college and receives the Bright Futures Scholarship.
5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
After spending over a year understanding the issue it became clear that we need to do more than address academic issues. We need to create a program that is engaging and sets students up for their goals whether that is a job, trade school, or college. That led to our unique approach which incorporates both academics and community service. Typically, programs focus solely on tutoring and career support or community service but our approach helps students by providing them with academic help and real world experience. This combination is admirable to employers and colleges.
6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
We will use information such as test scores released by the school board to see if the achievement gap is getting smaller. We will also know that we are making an impact by seeing if students are able to achieve their goals. We know that not every student is the same and our ultimate objective is to help them get to where they want to be. Therefore, we will conduct surveys at the beginning and end of the program to see how students feel they have done in achieving their personal goals. We will also track the success of each community project and the success of our participants in getting into college or a job.
7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
We plan to start in one high school with about twenty students as a pilot program. We will then expand the program to accommodate all students who need its services at that school. Once we have secured the funding and support necessary, we will expand to other high schools in Alachua County. It is important that we are able to provide all students with individual plans and personalized mentors so we will need to grow out team as we expand. We will then move to middle and then to elementary schools. We ultimately hope to provide students with help and mentorship before they fall behind and for younger students to be able to have the same mentor for multiple school years. This will allow students to grow their project with their mentor.
8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?
We plan to spend the summer fundraising so that we can start the program in fall. To make our vision a reality, we will need more funding. This funding will allow us to further help our students by providing them with standardized testing review books, online courses to help them prepare when they are not with their mentor, and eventually small grants to help them get their projects started. The grants would help the students learn money management. The funding would allow us to purchase class review books for students struggling in a particular subject. It is also important for us to be able to work with the Alachua County School system to implement this program. We will need to grow our team as the program expands.
9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
Donations between $100-$1k
10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.
Partnership has been a foundational part of this idea from the beginning. We will work with the University of Florida students, faculty, and alumni to find mentors for students. We will also work with Gainesville for All to find individuals willing to volunteer their time to make this program a success. We will work with the School Board so that we can help minority students in public schools. We will recruit minority students to join our team so that Standing Tall can be a project that continues to be led by students.
How did you hear about this challenge?