Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Benjamin Banneker Charter Public School in Cambridge to see firsthand the impact of its stimulus award. I got to see that – and so much more.
The Banneker School is a K through 6 science and technology school with a student body that is nearly 75 percent African American. Marlon Davis, its high-energy executive director, estimates that 80 percent of the student body is on free or reduced lunch. They draw from 18 surrounding communities.
This is one of those schools where, from the moment you walk in, you know that everyone involved in this enterprise, from the teachers to the administration to the parents, cares – a lot. They want to see their kids succeed and they are determined to make that happen.
Photo by Ariel Kessler.
In addition to its focus on academic excellence, this is the kind of school that takes its kids on a ski trip on a Saturday just to expose them to the experience.
Last year, the school received a nearly $400K Recovery Act award and immediately put it to work. As Sherley Bretous-Carre, the school’s assistant principal, told me, “We knew what we wanted and what we needed.” It was one of those “shovel-ready” projects you hear so much about.
The teachers and administrators at the school took an interesting approach. First, they decided that what the students really needed was some excellent tutoring and very small group work after school. Next, they figured out who was really tops in the area of tutoring and small group work and came up with the people at the Princeton Review. This is the company best known for SAT preparation work for high school students.
The school approached the Princeton Review and got agreement from them to provide comprehensive tutoring services for
Photo by Ariel Kessler.
36 of its kids who needed extra help. On my visit they showed me the results of that extra help in the form of the change in MCAS scores. I was pretty amazed. In fact, the tutoring helped the school improve its MCAS scores so much that it has moved out of probationary status and is now allowed to grow.
This is the kind of story that keeps me going. The fact that stimulus awards are helping real students and real schools is as gratifying as it gets. Talking to a few of the students was a great experience.
Marlon said something at our meeting that really stuck with me. “When you direct resources at a problem you get results.” Stimulus awards are all about directing resources at problems – at health centers that need more staff, at roads that need fixing, at fire departments that need more firefighters, at public housing projects that need improvements. I want to see first hand the results of those resources. Not just in terms of more people working – Princeton Review hired 4 additional people just for this project – but also in terms of what the project accomplishes. Better scores, better prepared students, more success.
Check back here often. I’m going to be traveling around the state and bringing you back stories of how stimulus funds are being used.
Do have a stimulus story you want to share? Let me know in the comments.