ALearn offers a host of programs that provide academic support to underrepresented students, but equally important is the nonprofit agency’s focus on changing their mindsets.
According to ALearn founder and CEO Kathryn Hanson, belief precedes performance.
“If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t,” she said. “We train everyone to change the way they’re thinking about themselves.”
ALearn serves struggling sixth- through ninth-graders, largely from Latino families in low-income school districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, via after-school and summer programs designed to shore them up academically. The organization trains credentialed teachers and college students – many of whom graduate from the program and return as teaching assistants – to emphasize Common Core State Standards. The goal is to create a cycle of learning, inspiration and success through ALearn’s Math Acceleration Program (MAP), MAP Plus, Catalyst to High School and Zoomz, a social network for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
“At the end of the day, it’s the sense that you can achieve – that’s the most important piece for kids,” said Hanson, a Los Altos resident.
The challenges are daunting. ALearn added sixth-graders to its lineup last summer at the request of teachers, who found that their students were already too far behind by the seventh grade. Failure to meet such students’ educational needs is a societal problem with long-term ramifications.
“We have an entire generation that are not getting the education they need to support the workforce,” Hanson said. “What we’re trying to do is change the trajectory for as many kids as we possibly can – get them on the path to college, get them on the path to successful careers.”
High-poverty districts confront additional challenges – gangs, violence, hunger, lack of social services – that result in only 12 percent of Latinos graduating from high school statewide, she said.
Closer to home, the income gap plays out in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, which combines students from the Los Altos School District and the lower-income Mountain View-Whisman School District.
ALearn’s Catalyst to High School summer program addresses that gap by identifying students who could benefit from rigorous math instruction before entering high school. The program’s success is quantifiable – 70 percent of enrolled students pass the district’s algebra test and go straight into geometry. As a bonus, most develop a peer group, gain confidence in their skills and become familiar with teachers and the level of instruction.
“They have eased into high school,” Hanson said.
ALearn used last year’s Town Crier Holiday Fund to expand its programming and plans to do the same in 2014.