Jonathan Morris is a City Year Team Leader serving on the New Schools for Baton Rouge/Entergy Louisiana team at Broadmoor Middle School in Baton Rouge. Jonathan discusses with us Diplomas Now, an innovative school turnaround model that brings together expertise from City YearCommunities in Schools and John Hopkins Talent Development Secondary.  Diplomas Now operates in 39 of the nation’s most challenged middle and high schools to keep students on track to graduate and ready for success after school.

Q: Diplomas Now uses a research based approach to both improve school instruction and provide students with the right kind of supports. What is City Year’s role within Diplomas Now? 

A: City Year brings together a diverse group of corps members to tutor, mentor and provide specialized support for struggling students throughout the school year. Although corps members provide assistance to students and the whole school, corps members are specifically trained to help students who are identified at the beginning of the school year as off track and struggling with poor attendance, behavior or course performance. Corps members work with many different students in and out of the classroom.  They create lesson plans and gather data regarding student progress, they arrive at school before students in order to greet them at the beginning their day. Corps members also run after school programs, and stay well after students leave in order to plan for the next day and receive additional training.

Corps members also provide whole school support by working alongside Diplomas Now partners, school teachers, and administrators. This collaboration allows City Year and Diplomas Now to work with a select group of students to provide specialized supports for students in need that in return benefits the whole school.

Q: How has the collaboration between City Year, Talent Development, and Communities In Schools helped make a difference for the students you work with and your school’s environment?  

A: City Year works in tandem with Communities in Schools and Talent Development in order to create an ideal environment that promotes success. Together we identify one or more areas where students are struggling and create a plan to collectively work with the student to help get them back on track.  We create a focus list of students who we need to work with individually or in small groups, and also create school-wide initiatives to get the entire student body and staff involved.

Here at Broadmoor Middle School, Diplomas Now has created an annual ice cream social for students who have perfect attendance for the first thirty days of school. Students see the excitement of being involved with the ice cream party, and it gives them an extra push to come to school. Apart from attendance, events celebrating good behavior and improvement in grades also motivate students to work hard in school. Through Diplomas Now, we’ve organized other school-wide initiatives like a career day with professionals from the local community, or a cultural fair with presentations from Peace Corps volunteers and food from around the world. What’s even better is each new year brings new ideas to the school to improve existing programs and events, so each year is even better for the students.

Q: The Diplomas Now staff and school teachers meet every week or two weeks for an Early Warning Indicator meeting to go over a “focus list” of students who are off track in the ABCs: Attendance, Behavior, and Course performance.   What does a typical meeting look like at your school and how does it help staff and students?

A: The typical meeting begins immediately with students in mind. Talent Development brings a master list of students and data associated with their performance and then teachers review the list and choose which students to discuss. Teachers, Diplomas Now staff and the City Year corps member who interact with the student work to develop an intervention plan.  A “champion” for the student, the person chosen to oversee the student’s intervention plan, will report back at the following meeting on progress and challenges. One of the goals of Diplomas Now is for teachers and staff in the school to permanently integrate these meetings into the school’s approach, and for teachers to eventually lead them on their own with support from Diplomas Now.

Q:  Why do you believe the Diplomas Now model works so well in high-need schools?

A: The Diplomas Now model works so well in the schools we serve because the program is placing professionals and young idealists in an environment where extra people power really goes the distance. The full spectrum is covered, from data collection and distribution, to tutoring and mentoring, to social work. Each member of Diplomas Now is placed to make a huge impact in a unique way, and when brought together they really make a difference.

City Year continues to see promising results in our Diplomas Now schools with moving students back on track. Of the students who were off-track at any point throughout this past year, 42 percent ended the year back on-track in attendance, 68 percent were back on-track with behavior, 56 percent were back on-track in English and 52% were back on-track in Math. (Data is for 21 schools)

City Year would like to thank Pepsi for being the lead private sector investor of Diplomas Now. 

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