The power of relationships


Our last post featured summer programming that BTEC educators developed in response to a particular group of students working with A Knock at Midnight NFP. We emphasized relationships and social/emotional learning, and sought to promote both academic and personal growth. We had an exciting final week of programming, finishing with some open ​gym time at Olive Harvey, an exhilarating college student panel at DePaul, and our 2018 Summer Symposium, where students shared projects across content areas.

The presentation aspect was voluntary, and we were impressed by how many students wanted to showcase everything from their Soapbox speech in English to some Spanish cooking, science research, or social justice math, where students visually depicted and presented about topics like racial (prison) sentencing disparities, dropout rates and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The growth in so many of our students in six short weeks seemed obvious to teachers and program staff: watching one of the most shy students give a striking speech (in front of everyone!) about #blacklivesmatter; observing relationships that started off tenuous at best grow into collaborative partnerships; seeing students who didn't show much interest have that "aha!" moment and suddenly engage.

But observation is one thing, and data is another. We collected academic and self-perception data from students in a variety of formats this summer, and the results backed up what we knew all along. Some highlights:

We used pre/post tests to assess academic growth. Across the board, over 75% of students showed growth in all four (!) content areas (Math, English, Science, Spanish). Our biggest jump happened in math, where on average, students grew 49% from pre to post.

We also collected some self-perception data to get a sense of students' academic confidence. Looking at individual student data we saw a ton of growth, but also noticed some trends. We found that overall confidence grew in a few places, from reading comprehension to Spanish history and sexual health. In math, students' confidence grew when working with probabilities, functions, graphing, data interpretation and geometry. At the end of summer we also found that 77% of students agreed with the statement: "I enjoy Spanish" and 92% said the same for science (both increases from the beginning of summer).

On this same assessment, students used a Likert scale (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree) to indicate their agreement with certain statements. This helped us learn a lot about individual students, but again, some overall trends emerged. The most striking jump (33% increase) was overall agreement with the statement: "I enjoy working with others to achieve a common goal" (avg response of 2.9 on the pretest to 3.9 on the post).

And speaking of relationship-building, we conducted focus groups/exit interviews to get students' perceptions of the program. When asked about what they liked most about it, over half mentioned relationships with teachers and students ("we can express our feelings without getting in trouble"; "opportunity to connect with new people").

The importance of relationships in education isn't a novel concept. It's at the heart of social/emotional learning (SEL), restorative justice, and my profession - school counseling. Some teachers have this down, and understand that focusing on process will allow students to better receive content. That means increasing collaborative opportunities for students, using inquiry-based methods, and of course, embedding SEL into all they do.

Now our students are back in school, and we're gearing up for continued relationship-building and academic support throughout the year, from drop-in and individual tutoring to Saturday sessions on everything from SAT prep and FAFSA completion to decision-making and communication skills, budgeting and credit, and all core subjects. We all learned so much this summer, and are looking for more like-minded educators to get involved this year! If you're interested, here's the official job posting.

Educators: don't forget to keep BTEC in mind for your (school's) program development needs (or pretty much any low-cost workshop, student support and more - check it out here). And here's to a smooth start to the school year!

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