The 2014-2015 school year was when we rolled out Elevate at Aurora Central High School. It was an after-school program that met Wednesday evenings and some Saturday mornings. Wednesday evenings were dedicated to either ACT preparation or a life-skills presentation with a guest speaker; Saturdays either encompassed ACT preparation (predominantly diagnostic testing) or athletic training with Xplosive. The ACT preparation component of the program was semester-based, and many students (8 of 17 students enrolled in the second semester offering) retook the course, even though some of them had already been accepted into colleges! Despite having already taken the course, these students remained engaged, often taking on leadership roles in the class and setting examples for new students to follow regarding behavior and commitment.
Going into the 2015-2016 school year, Elevate aims to offer an even deeper, more comprehensive program. Among our immediate goals for the year, we plan to:
- Expand the ACT-prep component of the Elevate program to a full-year curriculum, ensuring students learn both the underlying academic principles as well as test-taking strategies to increase ACT scores and, in turn, college admissions and scholarships.
- This will entail doubling our curriculum. During the fall semester, students will learn the academic fundamentals required to excel on the ACT and will receive course materials and diagnostic tests accordingly, provided by The Princeton Review. Then, during the spring semester, students will learn specific test-taking strategies that apply to the principles they learned in the previous semester. They will receive new materials, also provided by The Princeton Review. During this portion of the course, students will be able to “fine tune” their approaches to the ACT – we anticipate seeing their progress reflected in significant score gains, which we will track and report thoroughly.
- Open Elevate enrollment opportunities to all Aurora Central High School students participating in athletics as well as extracurricular activities in general. Last year, Elevate was an opportunity limited to Aurora Central High School student athletes; this year, we will consider students from all activities, such as drama and debate clubs. This will open our pool of prospective students to about 800, according to Aurora Central High School officials. We can accommodate about 5 percent of that population, which will allow us to position Elevate as an elite, sought-after program at the school. This is necessary in order to support development and expansion plans in the future, such as offering more than one session, which would require additional teaching staff, etc.
- Create focused, cohesive life-skills presentations that build upon each other from regular partners, instead of a roster of one-time presenters. Victoria Broussard, of Junior Achievement, has agreed to volunteer her time to provide a Personal Finances series to students that focuses on making responsible financial decisions and work readiness. Sarah Tierney, of Mosaic Admissions, will be offering a series of presentations that walks students through the college admissions process beyond just ACT preparation. One-time presenters will still make appearances, but by expanding our partnerships and offering more regularly appearing speakers, Elevate will be able to create a deeper sense of community among its students regarding cultivating their network of professionals and mentors.
- Increase parent and school administrator engagement. By introducing a stricter attendance policy (“3 Strikes Rule” regarding unapproved absences), Elevate program directors will be interacting with parents and school administrators (primarily the athletic director and extracurricular activities leaders) more frequently to ensure students are adhering to Elevate standards of conduct both in and outside of the program. And while we had a parent orientation night last year, which we intend to repeat this year, we also plan to include parents in a graduation celebration this year as well.
We have been approached by several other schools within the Aurora and Denver Public School districts regarding implementing Elevate at their respective locations. While this is certainly a longer-term goal of ours, we made the strategic decision that it was more effective to focus our short-term growth on deepening our roots at our current community, Aurora Central High School. Timing seems to agree with that decision: Aurora Central High School welcomed a new principal in May with whom we’ve already met and has offered his support in any way possible for Elevate. Similarly, we’ve began discussions with the Aurora Central Alumni Association, which is eager to increase its participation in and support of the program. We believe that by creating a comprehensive program that becomes truly inherent in a school’s culture, we will be able to best benefit students, as well as create repeatable programs for other schools in the future.