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October 23, 2014
LA GRANDE, Ore. – Preparing younger students for higher education is becoming more of a focus for elementary schools in 20 area districts thanks to a program called Academic Momentum. New data shows an estimated 3,550 students and 150 educators from 42 schools are participating this year from Gilliam to Wallowa counties.
“We’re in practically every school district in eastern Oregon,” said Dan Mielke, executive director of Eastern Promise, the parent organization for Academic Momentum.
Schools in Grant, Harney, Malheur, Morrow, Umatilla and Union counties are also participating.
Tailored for grades five through eight, the program begins by asking students, parents and their schools to sign a “compact” asserting students will work toward developing academic habits to prepare them for post-secondary education or training.
This is the first step in shaping a 10-year strategy known as the Academic Momentum Personal Development Plan that helps clarify students’ projected educational and career future.
The Pendleton School District piloted the program during the 2012-13 school year. Last year, 17 additional districts signed on with 1,809 students and 63 educators at 32 different schools.
Additional outreach began in earnest last spring when Vickie Read, Academic Momentum program coordinator, visited or contacted all of the schools in the region to let them know about the various training opportunities available through Eastern Promise.
“We’re growing more quickly than expected, as schools are communicating with each other and spreading the excitement,” Read said.
The flexible syllabus is one reason schools are so enthusiastic about getting involved. “We hand them a curriculum they can implement in a way that works best for them and their students,” Mielke explained.
Michelle Jensen developed the unique curriculum being used now, but it was originally modeled after a program implemented in Minnesota schools. It includes eight to 12 weeks of post-secondary and career related study.
Fifth-graders also visit Eastern Oregon University or another four-year college in their area to get a sense of what it is like to be a student there. In the seventh-grade, they visit Blue Mountain and Treasure Valley community colleges. All three institutions – along with the InterMountain and Malheur education service districts – are partners in Eastern Promise.
As the curriculum progresses through sixth, seventh and eighth grades, students and parents become more acquainted with navigating the college application process, acquiring financial aid and other aspects of higher education.
Other programs available through Eastern Promise create a continuum for students once they enter high school, enabling them to begin earning college credits.
“It’s about creating early awareness of the opportunities students will have later in life and helping them be better prepared to make decisions about their future,” Mielke said.
Another way Academic Momentum sets up students for success is by breaking down potential barriers to education for underrepresented populations, including those at risk due to poverty. As program coordinator, Read sees many participating school districts with 50-percent or more of their students taking advantage of free or reduced lunch programs.
“A child from poverty has an even tougher path to college and post-secondary preparation for many reasons,” Read said. “Our teachers need to be alert and prepared to help them overcome those additional obstacles.”
Academic Momentum is poised to provide professional development opportunities to help teachers respond to these challenges.
Earlier this month educators participated in poverty awareness training at EOU presented by Anna Browne, a certified trainer with a national program developed by Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D., founder of aha! Process, Inc. Browne also teaches fifth and sixth grades at Windy River Elementary in Boardman.
The training provided teachers with action steps and focused on a realistic approach to working with students and parents from poverty. It also provided background information and research-based strategies to increase student performance, understanding and communication.
For more information, including how schools can get involved with Academic Momentum, visit www.eastern-promise.org/programs/academic-momentum or call 541-962-3941.
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