Setting students up for success — would you help?

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If you could help close the achievement gap, would you do it?

The achievement gap gets blamed on lots of people, from students who won’t study to “bad teachers” to parents who don’t instill work habits to communities with embedded racism. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and just give up. Focusing on the problem can induce that kind of despair, so today I’m asking you to turn the lens around and focus on solutions.

Solutions. That’s plural, because there is not a single, silver-bullet cure for the achievement gap. Partial solutions are at hand, and you and I can be part of them.

College Possible provides coaching and support to low-income high school students to get them to college. That’s part one — part two is helping them to succeed in college. Right now, they are looking for mentors:

Idealistic Mentors matches college-educated adult mentors with College Possible seniors. Mentors support their mentee through college graduation. Mentees are paired with mentors based on their education and career interests. Mentors and mentees exchange weekly emails based on the Idealistic Mentors curriculum and meet at monthly Idealistic Mentor-sponsored events. …

Interested mentors must be at least 21, college-educated and live or work in the Twin Cities metro area for the first year of their mentoring relationship. To apply, candidates must fill out the College Possible Idealistic Mentors online application, attend a mentor training and complete the screening process.

Mentoring is a one-student-at-a-time solution, but it does make a difference. Tutoring is another way to move students beyond the achievement gap.

The Minnesota Reading Corps is currently recruiting both volunteer and Americorps-paid tutors. Tutors start at the other end of the age continuum, working with preschool-third grade students. Volunteers commit to at least one hour per week for at least three months. Americorps members tutor either half-time or full-time, with an 11-month contract. (Americorps tutors are part of a service program, not a job program, though they do receive a stipend and some benefits.)

Solutions to the whole achievement gap include ending childhood poverty, eliminating racism, giving every school all the resources it needs, and every teacher all the training and support for success, and all children secure homes and parents who read to them and watch over their homework … so solving the whole achievement gap seems pretty far out of reach. Working on the big picture problems is vitally important, but it’s not the only thing we can do.

Mentoring and tutoring are small parts of a solution that we can tackle right now. College Possible and the Minnesota Reading Corps are two good programs, but there are others. Getting involved at a personal level can help set up one student for success — and  can help each of us to remember what’s at stake in the big picture debate.