Mukilteo Beacon - Your Hometown News Source

By David Pan 

Extra help for Olympic View students

Academic Success Program offering tutoring, support for sixth graders


Last updated 5/25/2023 at 1:22pm

David Pan

Tutor Sarah Ramzan, a Kamiak junior, talks with Olympic Middle School sixth grader Duong Tran (left) during a tutoring session in the school's library.

Students are helping other students at Olympic View Middle School.

As part of the school's Academic Success Learning Labs program, Kamiak and Olympic View eighth graders are serving as tutors for sixth grade students needing additional academic support.

The tutoring is part of a comprehensive academic program that includes parental involvement, continuous monitoring of grades, bimonthly awards, and student lunch meetings.

Academic Link Outreach, a not-for-profit organization, is coordinating the program. The organization develops and distributes community-based, sustainable programs and materials that provide additional beyond-the-school-day academic support.

Mukilteo resident and former teacher/principal Jan Link is the director. Link has been an elementary school teacher, a curriculum director, an elementary school principal, and a high school principal.

"These experiences gave me the knowledge and the interest to figure out why school success was hard for some students," Link said. "I determined that the focus was middle school, and that middle school did count. That is where the habits and the hope, resiliency, and self-advocacy had to be in place."

Academic Link Outreach has been studying the issue of academic achievement since 2011. It initially started with 50 students in the Edmonds School District. After three years with Alderwood Middle and Lynnwood High School students, Link brought the Academic Success Learning Labs program to Olympic View to see how the program would work with a larger student body.

The first year the program was voluntary and 136 out of 350 students were involved. The next year principal Devin McLane and Link decided they would expand the program for all students; the results were encouraging, as 88% of the students were meeting teacher expectations by earning A, B, and C grades.

The pandemic curtailed the program in spring 2020. The next year, the program supported students with online tutoring and phone calls with parents, but much of the program was not sustainable.

Last fall, Link and Academic Link Outreach started up the program again for all incoming sixth graders.

A helping hand

Tutoring is an essential part of the Academic Success Learning Labs program, and older students play an important role.

One-on-one tutoring sessions are held after school Monday through Thursday in the school library.

Kamiak junior Sarah Ramzan is co-president of Academic Coaches, a peer-tutoring program at Kamiak. She helps coordinate middle school and high school tutors.

Ramzan said the goal of Learning Labs is "to be a resource for students in need, who might want a little bit of extra help with their academics, where they can come and receive help and kind of transition into the middle school environment."

The ultimate goal is to prepare middle school students with the skills they need to have success in high school, she added.

Katie Chandrabalan, an eighth-grader at Olympic View, heard about the tutoring program from science teacher Adam Kure, who also is the Academic Success Learning Labs program coordinator. Chandrabalan is the president of Olympic View's National Junior Honor Society.

"I've always liked working with kids," said Chandrabalan, who wants to become a pediatrician. "You need to be patient and understanding."

To start out, Chandrabalan gets to know students and finds out which classes they have the lowest grades in.

"You make a checklist with all the things they're struggling with and then we like to get at least two assignments finished," she said. "I just try to push them to their max. Most of them are really good kids."

Ramzan said many students are looking for a little support. Some fall behind with the assignments.

"They just need a guiding hand to really help them focus on a particular assignment," Ramzan said. "They're all willing to learn. Maybe they just don't have that guidance that they need, and they really get that in a school environment with their peers and people who are willing to lend a helping hand."

Sixth-grader Duong Tran started attending tutoring sessions when he had some challenges in social studies. He improved his D grade to a B.

"They explained the problems to me," Tran said. "They can give me more resources."

Sixth-grader Musa Jaiteh often attends tutoring sessions with friends. Jaiteh appreciates how the tutors take the initiative.

"They're very positive," Jaiteh said. "I don't have to ask them. They just come up to me. I'm very appreciative of that."

Ramzan said it's important for middle school students to learn foundational skills, such as turning in assignments on time.

"That's really the foundation for success that they're going to have to have in high school," she said. "If they start off by getting those skills in middle school, high school will be a lot easier for them."

Ramzan said the best part of tutoring is helping students achieve their goals.

"It's seeing a student, who had been struggling with the concept, finally understand – the light of recognition hitting their eyes, the final understanding," she said. "It's really gratifying."

Chandrabalan also shares that feeling when she works with students.

"I like helping them see their potential," she said, "And seeing the smile when they get an assignment done, and they get a high-five."

Pandemic impact

The effects of the pandemic on students are well documented. One research study from Brown University found that math and reading test scores for students in grades 3-8 during the first two years of the pandemic had sizable drops.

Even more concerning was that test-score gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools increased by 15% to 20% during the first year of the pandemic and even more in the second year.

"Public school remains near and dear to my heart," Link said. "I believe that children and parents are served best by neighborhood schools."

Link is concerned that students are leaving public schools for outside learning opportunities.

"Students are struggling. Teachers are struggling with all they are asked to teach outside reading, writing, and arithmetic," Link said. "We should be trying to keep our public schools going."

Parents are an important part of Academic Success Learning Labs.

"You have to have parent involvement. You cannot do this without parents or families," Link said.

The program communicates with parents through email, phone calls, newsletters, monthly parent meetings, and scheduled one-on-one conferences with students and parents with the goal of holding students accountable.

Kure added it's important to set up a routine with families so that the student makes it to the tutoring sessions.

"We need to make the parents aware of what their kids are getting because sometimes the parents don't know the grades. They're confused about how to read the online grade books," Kure said. "And so just clarification and letting the parents know the resources we offer to help the kids is crucial."

The program monitors the students' grades twice a month. On the first and 15th of each month, grades are analyzed and lists are made to determine the focus of student and parent interaction.

Students are recognized bimonthly with certificates and rewards. A, B, and C students are eligible.

"We are rewarding the kids who worked hard," Link said.

During lunch, six to eight students meet in smaller sessions with plans of action developed and discussed.

This year, the program added Shoot for Three sessions for students who did not meet the standard on the state math test in the fifth grade last spring. Eight sessions were provided for 24 students, who worked with three high school tutors.

As students progress through middle school, they continue in the program but with fewer interactions and different levels of involvement since they have learned and are responsible for their own learning.

David Pan

Academic Link Outreach director Jan Link and tutor Katie Chandrabalan (right), an Olympic View eighth-grader, work with Olympic Middle School sixth grader Musa Jaiteh (center).

Kure said it took a while for the program to get to know the kids and their habits. But now everyone is in a comfortable routine.

"When they walk in, we know what they're working on," he said. "The tutors know what they're working on. ... Consistency is key in getting students here."

The results are encouraging.

At the end of trimester two, the school saw an increase in A, B, and C grades to 77% of all sixth graders, up from 55% at the beginning of the trimester.

Kure has received many appreciative emails and face-to-face thanks from parents.

"The transition from elementary to middle school is hard on sixth graders, and it's a learning curve for parents to get used to having six different teachers and the classes changing," Kure said. "So, letting the parents know the expectations and teaming with them is the best way to ensure their kids succeed."


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