Class jump-starts underachievers

Aspiring Scholars prepares students for future honors classes.
Thursday, April 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tabia Gardner, a seventh-grader at Lange Middle School, never thought she’d be throwing paper airplanes in class.

But on Wednesday, Tabia and her classmates — students in Carla London’s Aspiring Scholars class — had the opportunity to do just that.

The students made the paper airplanes as part of an activity to teach them about how to use resources to create a product. These aspiring scholars are currently learning about economics and the processes of running a business.

Aspiring Scholars, which is in its first year at Lange, was created by London and Principal Tom Schlimpert in order to push students who are capable of performing at an honors level but are not necessarily putting in their full effort.

The program has 45 students who attend one of three classes with London. About 80 percent of the students are minorities; however, London said the program was not primarily created to target a gap in academic achievement.

Still, London said, the program helps prep her minority students for junior high and high school honors classes, where they have often been underrepresented.

The program focuses on motivational, organizational and study skills, as well as character education.

“We do a lot of character role play where I may give them a situation and they have to come up with the dialogue on how they would handle that situation,” London said.

She said she thinks it’s better to place the students in the role-play situations and let them see the consequences of their actions rather than stand up and preach to them about making good choices.

London said she focuses on constructive criticism and praise to encourage her students.

“At first I wasn’t on the honor roll, and then with the help of Mrs. London and this class, I made it on the honor roll,” said seventh-grader Mariah Proctor. Mariah and Tabia said their teacher is a great listener and is always willing to help her students out to get them back on track in their other classes.

Aspiring Scholars is a year-long elective class at Lange, and students must be recommended by counselors and teachers to enroll. London said the staff at Lange selects students seen as having a lot of potential to succeed in honors classes.

So far, London said, at least 50 percent have signed up to take honors classes next year at Oakland Junior High School — a figure she is excited to see, she said, because most of her students never would have considered honors classes as an option before.

Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, as well as Oakland, all have programs similar to Lange’s Aspiring Scholars called Minority Achievement Committee Scholars, or MAC Scholars, and MAC Scholars Jr. The MAC Scholars Jr. program at Oakland is an extracurricular activity that promotes high academic achievement in the school and focuses on building relationships among students. It is also meant to set a foundation for building on that success in high school, said Fran Lakatos, the MAC Scholar Jr. sponsor at Oakland.

Oakland students recently came to Lange to speak about classes and offer academic tips to the aspiring scholars as they prepare to attend junior high school next fall.

This month, the classes are focusing on economics, such as balancing a checkbook and management skills, as they prepare to take a field trip to Exchange City in Kansas City. Exchange City is a mock-municipality that students will run for a day. They will have to create resumes and apply for positions in the city such as mayor, postmaster and business owners. To get real-world interview experience, each student will have to interview with London.

London said she is pleased with the progress and success of the Aspiring Scholars program. She would like to see it expanded into the sixth grade and to other schools in the district.

Both she and her students are hearing from other Lange teachers that the program is helping the aspiring scholars improve.

“It’s really exciting for them to see their own successes,” she said.

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