Bridging the achievement gap in Bremerton

Students leave Bremerton High School for the day Tuesday. - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Students leave Bremerton High School for the day Tuesday.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

The surveys that secondary students and their parents took last spring in the Bremerton School District were not just another survey.

The district will host a community event, “Diverse Academic Paths,” Tuesday, Oct. 4 at Emmanuel Apostolic Church where Dr. Ron Ferguson will discuss the data collected, analyzing school climate to improve student engagement in order to decrease the achievement gap.

Ferguson is an economist and senior research associate at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University. He is the founder of the Tripod Project, in which surveys completed by students and parents are collected and analyzed to help decipher how to strengthen content knowledge, pedagogical skills and relationships in the schools.

“There are definitely kids that fall through the cracks, and it doesn’t really matter what their demographics are,” said Shelli Broussard, a parent with two children at Bremerton High School.

Broussard said that ethnicity or income demographic can play a role in whether or not a student is academically successful but it is not the only factor.

“You can’t categorize them,” she said. “Through this presentation and the studies, I hope we can come between the reports generated and the real life.”

Linda Jenkins, assistant superintendent, said that several factors can lead to causing the achievement gap but that the overall goal is to learn how to support the needs of all students.

“The achievement gap could be ethnicity, it can be income, characteristics of the family at home,” said Jenkins. “It’s not just about students from very supportive homes but that all students can achieve.”

The district hopes that the research from the surveys will convey what can be changed or improved in the schools and compare it to other schools as well. The Tripod Project has been used in more than 2,500 schools in 25 states across the country.

“It’s looking at ‘Where are we? How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?”  said Patty Glaser, district spokeswoman.

Glaser said it is difficult to compare Bremerton to other districts in terms of bridging the achievement gap but that Bremerton tends to have a lot of “movement.”

“You’re never really measuring the same students all the time,” she said, adding that the shift in students is mainly within the district with reasons being due to poverty or parents’ changing jobs.

Ivaly Alexander, a parent with an eighth grade daughter at Mountain View Middle School, said that opening up the schools to the community can help engage students. She acknowledged programs like “watch dog,” that is set up at some of the elementary schools where fathers come volunteer in the classrooms or help out in the cafeteria. But, there is always room for more communication and volunteers, she added.

“Communication with parents and the community go a long way,” Alexander said.

And not only is communication with parents and the outside community key, but also with the students themselves.

Taliesin Fitch, a senior at Bremerton High School, said that he feels the teachers try to get to know all of their students and treats everyone equally.

“I don’t see any major flaws,” he said.

Fitch added that there are counselors at the school where students can turn to who need extra support and that the many after school activities and sports can help students be engaged in different ways.

But the bottom line, is to make sure that all students are moving forward.

“Nobody wants to see their kid’s friends not flourish,” said Alexander.

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