Accelerate Northfield looks to close achievement gap between upper and lower income students - Northfield MN: News

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Accelerate Northfield looks to close achievement gap between upper and lower income students

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Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 3:05 pm | Updated: 11:47 pm, Tue Sep 10, 2013.

Though MCA test scores for Northfield schools were, once again, well above the state average in reading and math, the gap in achievement between upper and lower income students has been right on par with the state – a gap that is so large people are starting to notice.

Three years ago, a few concerned community members came together and formed Accelerate Northfield, an organization working to pair volunteers with students in a way that will most effectively facilitate student growth, in an attempt to close the gap.

“We started to hear about the big achievement gap between upper and lower income students and how the gap in Minnesota is one of the worst in the country,” said Fritz Bogott, the co-founder of Accelerate Northfield. “And Northfield is no better than the state average.”

According to Accelerate Northfield, low-income students in Northfield have trailed their peers in average reading and math proficiency by more than 25 percent over the last five years — and this group is growing. Almost one third of Northfield’s elementary students now receive free or reduced-price lunches, which is a 50 percent increase since 2004.

When Accelerate Northfield first got up and running, Bogott and his wife worked tirelessly, facilitating email correspondences between interested volunteers from Carleton, St. Olaf and the community with teachers in need of help. But now, with the integration of the Response to Intervention program and a computerized matching system, the organization and its mission have taken on a whole new life.

“Now there is a person [at each school] to greet the volunteer and tell them exactly what they want them to do,” said Tania Will, an RtI coach at Sibley Elementary School.

The RtI coaches, like Will, explain a specific intervention method, or tutoring strategy, to each volunteer that they should use depending on the individual needs and academic weaknesses of each student. The intervention methods include things like duet reading or slowly integrating problem math facts with information the student understands more completely.

“These are things researchers have found that have worked,” said Will.

With Accelerate Northfield, not only do volunteers feel confident when tutoring, but can quickly and painlessly choose where and when they volunteer. With Bogott’s new computerized scheduling system, teachers can post when they want volunteers and interested tutors can sign up for those times with just a click of a button.

Though the organization has already made an impact on many students and volunteers in the community, Bogott and Will are especially excited for this upcoming school year which will be the first time the scheduling system will be fully up and running and the partnership with the RtI program solidified.

“It’s a merging of missions really,” said Will. “That’s the beautiful thing about it. We help teachers figure out what intervention would best meet a student’s need. Teachers rely on Accelerate Northfield.”

“We are trying to make sure every student that needs help gets it,” said Bogott.

Reach reporter Erin O’Neill at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @reporterONeill.

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