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Wall Street Journal Market Watch

 

Making an Investment in At-Risk Kids

August 23, 2013

By Diana Furchtgott-Roth

It’s the beginning of the school year. Some students are walking into school fresh from summer vacation. Of course, kids on sports teams have been at school already for some weeks training to take part in football and track. It is a shame that similar emphasis is not placed on academic subjects.

South Carolina’s Neighborhood Outreach Connection, founded by World Bank veteran Narendra Sharma, is trying to make sure that low-income children do not lose academic skills during the summer. Sharma is applying his 32 years of World Bank experience to helping low-income children in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

Athletic departments know that kids cannot take the whole summer off and come back to school ready to play sports. That is why they set up summer training in August so that the team will be ready for its first game. But it is taken for granted that students walk into class in the fall having forgotten a substantial portion of their learning from the prior year.

Data clearly show that educational achievement is linked to earnings and employment. In general, the more education, the higher the earnings. In 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings were $417 for adults 25 and over without a high school diploma, $1,066 for those with a B.A., and $1,735 for those with a professional degree such as law and medicine.

And the more education, the lower the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate for adults without a high school diploma was 12.4% in 2012, declining to 4.5% for those with a B.A., and 2.1% for those with a professional degree.

The key to increasing earnings and decreasing the unemployment rate lies not only in a better-performing economy, but also in a stronger acquisition of skills.

Getting children to complete high school raises average weekly incomes by $9,400 a year. Getting them to complete a BA gets them another $21,500 annually.

Students are in school 180 days a year, for 6 hours a day. Imagine how much more they could learn if educators could capture the remaining 185 days, or another six hours in a day, or both.

That’s the philosophy behind Sharma’s Neighborhood Outreach Connection (NOC), based in Hilton Head, South Carolina. It provides low-income families with after-school and summer tutoring to stem the academic loss from empty summers and drab afternoons in low-income housing complexes.

As well as educational services, NOC provides health services, community projects, and adult English classes. Sharma’s efforts are supported by the NOC board and dedicated staff and volunteers.

NOC is currently moving into its second five-year expansion period with the goal of expanding its programs in other low-income neighborhoods in Hilton Head, Bluffton, and the Town of Beaufort, all in Beaufort County, SC. Its long-term goal is to replicate its model throughout the country

Sharma’s innovation is to set up programs inside low-income communities. Many parents do not have the resources to take their children to tutoring sessions, or to the doctor. For instance, many low-income children who qualify for the free Children’s Health Insurance Program are not registered for it because families are not aware of the program. Some rarely go to the doctor.

NOC buys or rents apartments or townhouses in low-income developments so that when the school bus drops the kids off at the end of the day, they can go straight to tutors who can help with homework and work on remedial skills.

This is especially important because many low-income homes do not have computers or Internet, and so when teachers assign homework on the computer, low-income students fall behind.

I visited three townhouses in the low-income Oaks complex at Hilton Head in South Carolina, one of four low-income neighborhoods served by NOC. The townhouses are arranged as classrooms, four per townhouse, complete with books, computers and individualized curricula.

NOC provides tutoring for a variety of grade levels, ranging from pre-kindergarten — to get children up to speed before they start school — to English classes for Hispanic parents who cannot speak English and so cannot help children with homework.

The program pays teachers from the Beaufort County public schools to tutor the children, helped by high school students who get community service credit.

The budget is $225,000 for programs in education, health care, and workforce development, as well as social events, and the program helps 200 students a year in Hilton Head and Bluffton. Another 200 children in the Oaks and Bluffton House could be helped if NOC had more resources.

NOC is about to lose its two rent-free apartments in Bluffton because the apartment complex was sold. Even though crime rates decline when NOC moves in, saving property owners money, the new owner, Aspen Square Management will charge NOC $1,000 per month each for the apartments — out of Sharma’s price range.

NOC leaves it to schools to perform the testing to ensure unbiased results. Students who took the summer learning programs in 2012 performed better on math and reading tests than the average of all Beaufort County students. During the academic year 2012-2013, NOC students regularly exceeded national averages.

Fifty-seven percent of NOC students who were enrolled in the 2012 summer program showed no loss in math skills, compared with 44% who were not enrolled in a summer program and 44% who were enrolled in the county summer program.

Boys do better than girls in math. Sixty-three percent of boys in the NOC program showed no loss in math, compared with 49% of girls. Both groups did better than students enrolled in the county program, or not enrolled at all. For reading, boys and girls do about the same.

Athletic directors understand that teams need summer practice to succeed. The same is true for academic skills. NOC offers one successful model to fill the gap.

Original Source: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/making-an-investment-in-at-risk-kids-2013-08-23

 

 
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