Expert offers tips for Fort Wayne-area families to close the achievement gap facing some students

To close the achievement gap, expert Melba Salmon believes parents and students need to take it upon themselves to seek information and help to make sure the student takes challenging courses and succeeds in school. (Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com)

People have talked about and worked for years to narrow the achievement gap between white and wealthier students and minority and lower-income students, but there’s still a lot of work left to be done.

Educational consultant Melba Salmon of The Practical Counselor recommends five steps a student and his or her parents can take to help ensure the student achieves academically at a high level.

Salmon recently spoke on “Closing the Achievement Gap” at a workshop in Columbia City that was organized by the Indiana Youth Institute, United Way of Whitley County and Community Foundation of Whitley County.

The key takeaway: Advocate for your student.

Go out and start asking for information, and don’t stop until you get the answers or information you need, Salmon said. She believes having each family address the issue individually will be the root solution to the achievement gap problem.

BACKGROUND

First, a little background:

Salmon said the gap really is more of an equity issue than an achievement issue. It typically involves students who are African American or Hispanic, come from low-income families or are English Language Learners or in special-education classes.

A lack of family resources accounts for about two-thirds of the achievement gaps in those populations, Salmon, a former school counselor, said during a phone interview with News-Sentinel.com.

Many households in those groups face problems with sufficient food, family trauma or health problems, she noted.

FIVE STEPS TO END THE GAP

1. Parents, get involved at school.

Student achievement and attendance increase across the board when parents are more involved in their child’s school and education, Salmon said.

2. Emphasize reading at all grade levels.

Reading is important at all grade levels but especially from birth to grade 3, Salmon said. After grade 3, many schools use reading more a means to teach other subjects than as a skill they continue to develop.

Parents can create a love of reading in their home by reading to their children when they are young and by creating a reading environment at home, she said. You don’t need to buy books – use your public library.

3. Promote the idea of the student taking rigorous coursework.

Help a student discover his or her strengths academically and explore those strengths with more rigorous classes, Salmon said.

Without a foundation of taking challenging classes in elementary grades, it makes it difficult for a student to take the more-challenging courses in high school, she said.

Even high school students planning to pursue a two-year degree or certificate program need to take rigorous classes in elementary, middle and high school, Salmon said. Many two-year degrees, for example, still require a significant level of math.

4. Balance summer experiences.

Students, and especially teens, need summer to catch up on their sleep and have fun, but they also should use the time to explore careers in which they have interest, Salmon said.

She also recommends students take part in summer learning and reading programs and do daily worksheets in school subjects such as mathematics.

5. Create a study routine and a dedicated student workspace at home.

Set aside a time in the household where all televisions, phones and other distractions are turned off, Salmon said. Also, encourage students to pursue knowledge on school subjects beyond just reviewing their class notes.

A student’s workspace can be small, but it needs to be a place where the student can concentrate and study, Salmon said.

ASK FOR HELP

Students and parents should make use of all available resources to get the information and help they need for the student to achieve at a high level, Salmon said.

Many resources are located in the schools, such as teachers who can provide or suggest work to extend the student’s learning beyond what is covered in class, she said. School counselors and social workers also can be good resources.

Connect to public libraries to plug into reading and other programs, Salmon said. Community organizations also often offer youth development, youth employment and work-experience programs.

“You need that layering, and parents need that support – they can’t do it alone,” Salmon said.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” she said. “It has to be a community effort.”

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