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Guest Commentary/Achieving Academic Excellence

For starters, keep schools open until 6 p.m.

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By Jan Link
Academic Link Outreach applauds the interest in giving our students first-class facilities in which to learn. During my 50 years in education as a teacher, elementary and high school principal, and now supporting the schools with a non-profit, I remember the pride the learning environment gives students plus the feeling of being safe.
We now need to keep these learning environments open “outside the school day.” We need to embrace what that would do in preparing our youth for their future. To make “academic excellence” a reality and improve our schools’ on-time graduation rate, adults need to provide an academic culture that believes that learning does not stop when the last school bell rings. School facilities (only one room is necessary) need to stay open daily to 6 p.m., with support to provide students ample access to assistance and resources. It is only then that each student will be adequately prepared for the next level of study. Lack of achievement has a snowball effect. As a student goes through school the problem keeps getting bigger and bigger as time goes on. This not only negatively affects the learning of that student, but the entire classroom as well. Additional help for those in need will have a positive effect on everyone!
Academic Link Outreach, a local non-profit, has the vision that every elementary school will have all-day kindergarten. Students would be brought in early for skill-based testing with additional learning opportunities expected of those students who are not “kindergarten ready.” Assistance would continue throughout the school year. Our vision is that at the end of third grade, when state test results come back, any student who has not met state standard returns prior to school for additional skill teaching to get closer to grade level standard. Focus would remain throughout the year with the fourth grade “Smarter Balance” state test, being the evaluation tool to determine success. Someone once said, “If a student is not reading at grade level standard by the end of third grade, everyone should consider it as serious as having a heart attack.” Our middle school vision is that students not meeting grade level standard at the end of sixth grade, would attend a seventh grade prep-camp to help focus on the path to academic success. Support would continue throughout middle school with an “outside the school day” study table for tutoring and mentoring using trained volunteers as its core. Would this not help close the educational gap, hold all students accountable for work completion, and help all students reach higher levels of achievement? The time is now! With each year we wait, another group of students will not rise to their true academic potential.
For academic excellence, the beautiful school buildings we support must be utilized more hours than they are now for academics. This means they would be open until 6 p.m. weekdays.
Academic Link Outreach’s mission is developing the above systems to support teachers and schools to reach higher levels of achievement and better promote on-time graduation. We are prepared to help! Our end goal is to have students stay with public education for that is the best place to “grow”!
Jan Link of Mukilteo is the Director of Academic Link Outreach.

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