'On the right track': United Way believes its 'mobilization plan' has helped Cape students

Monday, January 21, 2013
Elizabeth Speichler works with her fourth-grade students, from left, Tayler Smith, Makayla Welker, Tabria Dennis, Keyshawna Malone, Marisa Fields and Keven Fasig, on their persuasive writing exercises Friday at Franklin Elementary in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

The United Way of Southeast Missouri is enthusiastic about recently released statistics that show areas of improvement in Cape Girardeau's public schools during the 2011-2012 school year.

"We're very pleased with how the numbers came out," said Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri. "Though there is room for improvement, we believe we're on the right track with our plan."

The plan that Jernigan referred to is the United Way's "mobilization plan," established in conjunction with the Cape Girardeau School District in 2009. It targets improvement in eight indicators of student performance, particularly among students viewed as being at-risk. According to information provided to the United Way by the school district, six of eight performance indicators showed improvement in 2011-2012. Those indicators were as follows:

Jamarious Thomas works on his persuasive writing exercise in Elizabeth Speichler's fourth grade class Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 at Franklin Elementary in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

* A decrease in the number of students with 10 or more unexcused absences;

* A decrease in the number of students not ready to enter kindergarten;

* A decrease in the number of students reading below the third-grade level;

* A decrease in the number of students writing below basic level;

* An increase the number of students writing at proficient and advanced levels;

* A decrease in the number of students not having earned any math credits by the end of their freshman year; and

* An increase in the graduation rate.

While there is no evidence that points to the United Way's plan as being the sole reason for the gains made by the district, Jernigan believes the organization has certainly played a part.

"We know that administrators, along with teachers and counselors, have done well in developing these positive results," she said. "The district's tutoring and preschool programs, for instance, have been remarkable. But we believe we've had an impact."

Destiny Jones works on her persuasive writing exercise in Elizabeth Speichler's fourth grade class Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 at Franklin Elementary in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Read to Succeed, a component of United Way's mobilization plan funded by an AmeriCorps grant, could be contributing to the success. The program, started in 2010, sends volunteers into all Cape Girardeau elementary schools four days a week to read to children identified as reading deficient.

"Between 80 to 85 percent of students in Read to Succeed are reading at their appropriate grade level," Jernigan said. "It might be that it has helped our reading score indicator."

Dr. Rhonda Dunham, principal of Franklin Elementary School, approves of Read to Succeed in her building.

"It's our first year of having it at Franklin," Dunham said. "We use it for our kindergartners, and it gives them the boost they need. We have 99 percent of them on reading level, and I have no doubt that it's because of Read to Succeed."

The out-of-school programs funded by the United Way, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Cape Girardeau and Big Brothers Big Sisters, have provided positive influences on students who have been termed at-risk.

"We know that 85 percent of kids involved in our out-of-school programs are on track to graduate," Jernigan said. "These programs give at-risk students the opportunity to gain confidence in themselves, which we believe translates into staying in school and graduating."

Another facet of the mobilization plan that focuses on keeping at-risk students in school is the Parent Liaison program, in which the liaison is given a student's academic information regarding things like bad attendance and poor performance. The liaison acts as a mentor to the student, encouraging him or her to do better, and if there is no improvement, the liaison then speaks to the parents.

"We have liaisons in nearly every Cape school," Jernigan said. "They inspire at-risk students to do better and to ultimately graduate. The common thread among those kids is poverty. The liaisons remind them, and in some cases their parents, that poverty is not a death sentence. We believe the liaisons have done a tremendous job toward keeping those kids in school."

Jernigan is mindful, however, that despite its overall success, the mobilization plan did show a lack of improvement in two indicators: discipline referrals and having 70 percent of students reading on or above the district benchmark.

"We missed the reading indicator by one percent," she said, "but we didn't do near as well with cases of discipline referral. I don't have an answer for why that is, but we intend to keep reviewing data with Cape schools and determine solutions."

Dr. James Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, said the United Way programs have been helpful.

"The United Way has been with us studying and looking for ways to improve our graduation rate," Welker said. "Through parent liaisons, they have been effective in working with kids and their parents, trying to keep them in school. Read to Succeed is vital for students at an early age to develop the reading skills they will need to get them through graduation. We're glad to be working with them."

For more information, contact the United Way of Southeast Missouri at 334-9634 or online at www.unitedwayofsemo.org.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

430A Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

215 N. Louisiana St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

301 N. Clark St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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