Academic Coaching for Academic Underachievers

by Start 2 Achieve

Since our last report we experienced the disappointment many foster parents know when our former foster daughter 'chose' to turn her back on a wealth of community based support and returned to her former lifestyle of drugs, sexual co-dependency and physical abuse. The timing seemed so bazarre as we wrap up a study and program which we have been developing quietly for several years. How can you quantify the potential for academic success - or failure - and use that as a predictor of success in life?

Through more than twenty years of working with underachieving high school students we have learned two very important lessons. First, there is no simple answer which accounts for the pandemic academic underachievement taking place in this country. Second, we know and acknowledge that there is no silver bullet to 'cure' the disease - current program included.

However, as a by-product of working with foster kids, we have also learned that you can predict with a high degree of accuracy the propensity for any given student to overcome all the barriers s/he faces and reach the stars of excellence - in school and life. Based upon decades of research, testing and monitoring, there is a treasure of instruments and programs which point to the answer(s). Using many of these resources, START 2 Achieve has been developing a tool which can help everyone involved in the process determine 1) what barriers students face in their academic endeavors and 2) which programs/approaches are likely to yield the most success in each individual situation.

While we are still about 5-6 months away from releasing our findings and our instrument, we are pleased to say that this will become an integral part of our efforts to personalize all of our academic coaching strategies in the future. The most exciting discovery which we can share at this time is that the most effective constant in overcoming barriers lies in teams vs. individual struggles. Relationships are so critical in the education process that it is easy to forget that programs are only as effective as the relationships which grow out of the programs. We, at START 2 Achieve, look forward to sharing the successes to be targeted through the use of our programs and our tools used to implement them.

We believe that a paradigm shift in academic achievement for foster kids is long overdue and that it is a fact that they have as much potential as traditional family based youth. It is our job to empower them to discover it and pursue their personal potential.

    Perhaps noone gets it, but foster care and academic achievement seem to be mutually exclusive worlds. In the midst of rebranding our academic achievement system, numerous encounters with students and educators have made it obvious to us that the one ingredient missing from academic 'standards' debates is - relationships. Programs are designed to help schools raise their global achievement based upon norms which are defined by - academicians.

    Rhonda recently shared how she was able to overcome the neglect of her (and her sister's) foster parents as pertaining to academic achievement. Realizing that she was not going to receive any assistance at home with her school work, she sought out participation in one of the Project START 2 Achieve teams at her small high school in Iowa. Over time her academic coach empowered her to reach for higher levels and realize her full potential. Dialogue began to open up with teachers and classmates who grew sensitive to the world of apathy she struggled with at home. Rhonda's coach saw a bright, energetic student who wanted more out of life and offered more to those around her as she began to blossom.

    In a letter to her former academic coach, Rhonda wrote of her accomplishments as a freshman in college where she studies through the assitance of scholarships and grants to become a high school counselor. She went on to plead for assistance for her younger sister who enters high school next year in much the same frame of mind which she carried into the same school - hopelessness. Her conclusion - "Without the relationships and support found through START she would have never graduated and found a brighter future."

    START 2 Achieve will continue to build on the cornerstone of learning for everyone - meaningful relationships. We don't consider our participants miracles, but rather the obvious outcome of caring coaches connecting with struggling students - whatever the cause of their individual struggles. We appreciate the support so many people have offered and eagerly await the new delivery system we have worked on for years.

     How does a foster child learn to be a caring and responsible parent? This is a problem we have encountered recently as we connected with former participants who achieved better grades through our academic coading and went on to be working parents. You see, for many foster kids they haven't had the good fortune of experiencing constant positive parenting examples as they mature and gain their 'independence' in the real world. Life skills are usually not a high priority as foster parents and organizations wrestle with the histories which created the emotional vacuum  most foster kids live with daily., through our book distribution program and our team coaching efforts, is now expanding to offer basic life skills to our 'graduates' and others who are seeking better lives for themselves and their young families. As you think about the highly competitive job market today, imagine how difficult it is for job seekers who don't have resources, contacts or basic job skills that many of their peers bring from healthy family environments. Even struggling students who come form healthy family situations have to compensate for 'lessons' they missed as they sought to simply graduate after years of 'getting by'.

    Withing the near future we will be publishing our own 'lessons learned' through helping these students increase their odds of building strong relationships and being part of healthy families of the future. As these lessons are scripted we plan to make them available to schools, CPA's and Human Service organizations via training and internet based curriculums.

    The future looks brighter as we climb out of macro economic abyss, but the micro struggles continue and don't come automatically as the gaps between economic classes widen. S2A is thrilled to be a part of shedding a little light amidst the darkness of underachieving.

 The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs (our home) heightened our awareness of and need for replacing books and learning tools of children lost in disasters. While parents wrestle with claims representatives over tangible family needs, it has become apparent that replacing children's losses easily drop off the radar. Then, just as we were building a plan and base of support, the problem grew exponentially following Sandy and the horrific destruction wrought by that catastrophy. As a result of these disasters, we have raised the opportunity to touch not just foster children, but children of immense demographic and geographic diversity. 

So far, we have been able to partner with several agencies and schools to replace materials for seventeen families. One side benefit is the ability to identify children who also need academic coaching and find ways to meet those needs through customized programs. With increased awareness of the issues, doors are being opened with potential corporate sponsors and we are agressively pursuing those opportunities. 

At the same time, cries have gone out about the desparate need for more foster parents and we are hoping to assist agencies who are seeking families for many of these kids. Our internet model of coaching has been tested and proven capable of working with these students, but we have also been challenged with some critical legal and marketing issues surrounding the protection confidentiality of the students who might participate. While these matters are under review, we will continue our local school based program on a limited basis.

Thank you in advance for your support and encouragement.

This summer saw horrific fires destroy forests, homes - and dreams throughout the country. The Waldo Canyon fire here in Colorado Springs claimed more than 350 middle to upper class homes in a matter of a few short hours. As we drove through the neighborhood where we used to live the loss of homes and dreams left us speechless. Some of those homes housed foster kids who are seeking to turn their lives around and achieve their potential. The flames also caused us to stop and reflect on what the children - foster or not - lost in those frightening moments.

One of the realities that hit us in the aftermath is that children lost books which represented precious memories and vital learning tools. Most foster kids don't have a collection of books and are lacking that critical link to learning. To that end we are focusing our efforts on two 'recovery' ideas about which we hope to be able to share more details very soon.

First, we plan to begin the process of replacing those books which children have lost through any tragedy. The idea is receiving strong indications of interest from corporate and community groups and we plan to open it for active participation by the end of September.

Second, realizing that foster kids need to read more, we are going to make a concerted effort to create personal 'libraries' for them which they can keep with them for life.

It is our hope that others will share this dream and keep this idea 'burning' in their minds and hearts.


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Organization Information

Start 2 Achieve

Location: Colorado Springs, CO - USA
Project Leader:
Ray Wallander
Colorado Springs, CO United States

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