At-Risk Star Students Overcome COVID-19 Learning Restrictions In Wichita Program
Even for the best and brightest students, remote learning in the midst of a pandemic can prove challenging.
Regardless of their past record, even high-performing students can find themselves struggling to stay focused, missing out on socialization and potentially veering off track.
When these students are among the rare male students of color who are excelling academically, getting offtrack can prove costly. So when Wichita State University stepped up to help a group of these high achievers from USD 259, it isn’t surprising that district administrators let out a collective sigh of relief.
“These are young men that we know they’ve already demonstrated that they have the college potential. And our job with this group is shame on us if we lose these guys because these are cream of the crop,” said William Polite, director of Equity, Diversity and Accountability for USD 259, the Wichita Public Schools system.
In 2018, Polite started a program Better Academics And Social Excellence (BAASE) that’s been working to help insure the success of middle school males of color. Last spring, USD 259 and WSU announced a partnership that followed BAASE students into high school and made them affiliate members of the WSU community.
As WSU affiliates, the students received access to WSU campus resources and amenities including the university libraries, Heskett Center, the Shocker Store and Shocker Sports Grill and Lanes. But before most of the students had a chance to benefit from the affiliation, both USD 259 and WSU closed in response to the pandemic.
Back on campus this fall, program leaders took a fresh look at their strategy and tweaked the game plan.
The result is 35 BAASE high schoolers are getting rare exposure to college this semester. Instead of sitting at home, connected to their USD 259 classes through laptops, they bring their laptops to the WSU campus Monday through Thursday. During the day, the young men are provided a quiet space to study. Some students share study space at a table, while others seek their own space and still others opt for the lounge seating area. Supervisory staff are on site.
Their special programming needs are met as much as possible. Students in South High School’s culinary program have completed cooking lessons on campus, and there are music practice rooms for the several students who are in high school band.
After school, they head to the Heskett Center for games and exercise, and at lunch time, they eat for free in the Shocker Dining Hall.
The on-campus experiment was opened on a first-come, first-serve basis, and has a waiting list. There are 146 young men in the BAASE high school program and 572 BAASE middle school students.
To be in BAASE, the young men must have at least a 3.2 grade point average, zero suspensions and good attendance, according to program manager Carla Clement with Wichita Public Schools.
Polite says USD 259 decided to expand BAASE to high school because that’s where they lost a lot of males, when pressures from the neighborhood start to weigh in on them.
“Our goal is to bring these students together to create a positive peer group where it’s cool to be smart,” Polite said. “We want to keep them inspired and motivated and to prepare them for college.”
Based on input from participating students, the WSU on-campus program is helping achieve those goals.
Northeast Magnet High School 10th-grader Malcolm Gilmore saw it as a good opportunity to get out of the house and go to a college that is on his radar. He likes engineering and math, and the University of Houston and the University of Oklahoma also are colleges he’s considering.
“While we’re in school, we can focus on our work,” said Gilmore, and they can go to the athletic facilities at the Heskett Center after school. It’s a “good bonding experience,” he said.
“It helps me focus and learn a lot and makes me want to go to college even more than I used to,” said Darius Black, in the ninth grade at North High School.
“One big thing is getting them out of the isolation of their home,” Polite said.
The bonus is the exposure to college.
“They’re actually having a college experience here,” he said.
Last week, the Wichita Board of Education voted to open the district’s middle and high schools for the nine-week period beginning Nov. 9, using a hybrid model. Students will spend part of the week in school and part of the week learning remotely. How exactly this new schedule will impact BAASE on-campus students isn’t clear at this time.
BAASE students who are not at WSU are meeting with their site coordinators at each school, according to Clement.
“It’s tough right now, but site coordinators are finding creative ways to meet with their BAASE students outside of school,” while maintaining safety, she wrote in an email.
This story was originally published in The Community Voice and is published here as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies, including KMUW.