By Wendy Samberg, Director of Instructional Design and Development, Gateway Community College, New Haven, CT
In New Haven, Connecticut, the city-wide dropout rate for high school students exceeds 27%. We’ve known for too long that there’s a massive achievement gap in our state, but the elephant in our local community’s room has been the communication gap and lackluster strategies between the high schools and the college. Students who graduate from high school and enter Gateway or one of our state universities should feel confident that they’re ready and able to begin work toward higher educational goals. However, for more than 85% of those incoming freshmen, this has not been the case.
The Gateway Community College Middle Colleges
For high school graduates to succeed as college freshmen, we would need to forge a committed relationship between Gateway Community College and the New Haven Public Schools. We would need flexibility within the education policies and procedures to offer a variety of secondary school options. Our immediate goal was to increase high school and college graduation rates, without the need for remediation. To begin, we had to acknowledge some disheartening facts: Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in elementary and middle school in the nation. New Haven students fall behind in literacy and mathematics early in their academic careers, setting the stage for low performance. If students were going to be successful, we would have to actively help them “catch up.”
For successful projects, leadership is mandatory. Gateway’s President and the Superintendent of New Haven’s schools, agreed to a memorandum of understanding to support the partnership. We joined the Middle College National Consortium. We are consistently updated on national and local initiatives that involve best practices in dual credit programming. We chose three principals from very different high schools who showed interest in having their schools participate in a dual credit partnership with the college. All the agreed to a set of standard procedures including regularly scheduled meetings, testing students for baseline data using the College Board Accuplacer placement test and diagnostic test for more specific information conveying mastery or deficiencies in math and English. Co-Op students as freshmen
We agreed to a series of professional development sessions for both college faculty and high school teachers to be aware of each others’ perceptions and pedagogy. Together we attend the MCNC professional development conferences to stay current in our field. We hired professional liaisons to ensure daily communication between the college and high school classes and tutors to reinforce teacher lessons. We offer summer programming at the college so that students have a continuous educational experience, while earning up to nine college credits over six weeks.
Funding has been secured through grants and foundations and the College has waived the cost of fees. Ultimately, legislation at the federal and state level is needed to ensure long-term success.
All partners believe strongly what research has confirmed – that students who participate in academically challenging high school curricula are more likely to be successful in college. More often than not, rigorous courses are geared to an “elite” tier of high school students, leaving students with inadequate academic and social skill levels at a distinct disadvantage. The Gateway Middle Colleges promote an environment where students can learn the skills to be engaged, academically challenged, and to feel socially and emotionally secure.
Gateway Middle College Partnerships Common Components
- Gateway seeks out students who might otherwise not have considered themselves “college material” to participate in a rigorous academic program beginning in 9th grade.
- Students have the opportunity to accrue anywhere from 30 credits to a certificate or an associate’s degree. Programs are developed that complement the “theme” of the school.
- Parent participation is an integral part of the program. There are two parent-student gatherings each semester and one before the summer. Parents are introduced to the faculty and given syllabi. Parents are part of a list serve that’s set up to keep information flowing back and forth.
- Summer programs offer students a full day of programming for six weeks. Students can earn up to 9 college credits at the same time they are meeting new peers, professors and staff, and finding their way around the college campus.
Gateway Middle College at Co-op
The Cooperative High School for the Arts and Humanities (Co-Op) was Gateway’s first Middle College partnership. The students were selected as second semester freshmen on the basis of attendance and an interview. Students, with the support of Middle College, were able to successfully complete college courses at Gateway in the morning and during the summer and finish their high school requirements at Co-op. Four years later, they are graduating with upwards of 30 credits, entering college as sophomores.
Our students have been offered admission and scholarships to many colleges and universities including: Gateway CC, Manhattan College, Morehouse College, Penn State, Quinnipiac University, Smith, St. John’s University, Tuskegee University, and UCONN.
Gateway Middle College at Hillhouse
The after school partnership staff consists of two English teachers and two math teachers and a student teacher for each as an aide/tutor. The Parent Coordinator has been very successful in meeting with parents one-on-one, phoning families for all absences, and collaborating with other members of the team. The program meets 4 days per week (2 days of math and 2 of English) from 2:30 to 4 pm. Several students have sacrificed sports or other after school aspirations to focus on their academic growth. In addition, two computer classes are being taught for college credit.
All Hillhouse freshmen were given an assessment in December to determine strengths and weaknesses in areas of mathematics considered necessary prerequisites for college level math courses. The results of these assessments were used to develop focus areas for instruction in our two groups of after-school math classes. In March, after two months of the program, assessments indicate that one group advanced by an average of 14% and the other by an average of 28%. Both the group and individual progress is substantial for only two months.
Gateway Middle College at New Haven Academy
All NHA students participate in a four-year sequence of Facing History and Ourselves seminars, civics, and social justice courses. The Middle College at NHA works with the co-principals to find courses, for dual credit, that fit in with their curricula. This semester, students were enrolled in a Criminal Justice class taught by the former head of up the Correction Department’s academic programming. In addition to traditional coursework, students attended a court session with the presiding judge where they were able to view a voir dire session of potential witnesses.
The most exciting part of our student success plan is that it’s a continuum. It took years for the college community and our high school partners to realize that we are not going to win the achievement gap war with a single battle or strategy. It’s going to take all of us, armed with good will, a passion for our jobs, love for our students, respect for each other, motivation and a powerful resolution that, together, we’ll do what it takes to ensure our young people succeed in higher education.