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Mississippi Partnership Contributes to Higher Student Scores

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When a parent, a community and a parent education organization rally to help students, it can impact the children, and the school's academic results, which is what happened at Carver Middle School in Meridian, Miss., where 6th graders increased language-arts proficiency levels by 18.75 percent in this past year.

"We met our AYP [adequate yearly progress] growth in language arts in every area," says Carver Principal Tiffany Plott, whose school also increased 9 points in its Quality of Distribution Index score, an accountability measure that is unique to Mississippi public schools. "When you're in a school like this, that is at risk already, and we went up 9 points, it's an accomplishment."

Plott says that she will take any help she can get for her at-risk students. The winning formula for her, this time, started with the interest of Jennifer Wolfe, a mother who provided inspiration and a grant to launch a book club for struggling readers. The community contribution was from 26 adult volunteers from Central United Methodist Church, who mentored 50 students reading the books through the school's "Study Buddy" program once a week for a year. And the organization that jumpstarted it was Parents for Public Schools, a Jackson, Miss.-based national nonprofit whose goal is to strengthen public schools by engaging, educating, and mobilizing parents.

"I'm a single parent of two sons," said Wolfe in a phone interview. "I felt the schools needed change and I wanted to be involved in it." So Wolfe signed up for a three-weekend Parent Engagement Program training offered by Parents for Public Schools.

Becky Glover, a parent coach in East Central Mississippi, and other Parents for Public Schools staff taught the class Wolfe took in 2011. "We're trying to create 'demand communities' all over Mississippi that recognize, value, and prioritize quality education for all children and work together to make that happen," she said.

Wolfe appreciated the opportunity to "connect with about 30 people who were interested in better schools; not just talking about it, but being about it," she said. In classes, Wolfe learned how the public schools work, how to understand the jargon of education, as well as how to read and interpret data about students' progress.

Upon graduation, she received a $200 grant, and one of her classmates contributed his grant, too. With that $400, Wolfe went to Carver Middle School educators and asked how she could help. She learned that reading comprehension was a major concern, so she decided to spend the money on books for the students.

The volunteers from Central United Methodist also were looking for a way to contribute. Carver Principal Plott said the focus on reading made a perfect match for these mentors. "I've been in education 20 years, and I've never seen a more faithful group of volunteers. They were tireless in their efforts," she said.

In the end, the students gained much—including the chance to keep the books they had read so successfully.

As a parent coach, Glover is pleased, too, with the results: "We train parents and other citizens in the community how to build authentic relationships with schools in order to increase student achievement. So many times, all schools are used to doing with parents and community members is fundraising. We know that they can do so much more, but they need some of the same information educators need in order to make a difference in student achievement."

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

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