New Worcester Program Targets Minority Gap

NEWARK — Despite consistently ranking at the top of school systems in the state, educators in Worcester County have always acknowledged that schools here suffer from the same minority achievement gap that is measurable nationwide. Hoping to chip away at that gap, the county has started a Building a Bridge to College Summit Program (BBCSP).

“The focus of this program is to promote academic excellence and opportunities for underrepresented minority students, as well as other students, in various academic programs that show achievement gaps,” wrote Coordinator of Instruction Shirleen Church in a memo to the Board of Education. “Data has shown there are pockets of talented students who need additional support, resources and guidance to guarantee they reach their academic goals. This program will provide those support systems and thus close those achievement gaps.”

BBCSP is a collection of activities countywide designed to motivate parents and students to get ready and excited about going to college, according to Church. It’s also in place to help educators zero in on the areas where the achievement gap between minorities and white students are most prevalent. Besides the obvious areas like Maryland State Assessment (MSA) performance, Church pointed to things like the honor roll as a watermark that the board can look at to indicate progress in closing the gap.

For example, in grades 6-8, 36.1 percent of the county’s African-American population made honor roll compared to 46 percent of white students. Only 5.7 percent of African-American students in the same age group made the more prestigious principal’s list, while 25.7 percent of white students achieved that designation.

The gap maintains in grades 9-12 as well. 27.6 percent of African-Americans made the honor roll in that age group compared to 38.9 percent of white students. While high schools don’t have a principal’s list, there is a distinguished honor roll which 12.6 percent of African-American students qualified for compared to 38.9 percent of white students.

“These are the gaps we’re looking at now,” said Church, who added that the gap has been shrinking over the last several years.

Another area where BBCSP is specifically designed to shine is in increasing minority students’ application to and acceptance at colleges or secondary education vocational schools. Part of that will be encouraging students to enter more Advanced Placement classes, said Church, as well as motivating parents to support their children’s continued education.

“We may be looking at students whose parents never visit our schools,” she admitted.
Also important will be teaching students and families to begin thinking about college much earlier.

“We have to change our mindset that we don’t think about college until we’re in high school,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis. “It has to start earlier and some of the initiatives we have this year will start talking about college in sixth grade.”

Worcester’s current goal is to have 100 percent of all students qualify for continued education, either with a university or vocational program, said Church. And even for those who decide to enter the military or the workforce, she said that schools want to leave students prepared should they ever want to pursue further learning, whether that student is white, black, Hispanic, or anything else.

Schools this year were given a “stipend” to fund BBCSP related activities, said Church, with more programs planned for next year.