Compass: Rotary goes back to school at Central, and all hands gain

As the new school year begins, all of us in Anchorage have the opportunity to help our students succeed. Our community's future depends on our individual and collective investment in our youth.

Understanding this, last year the Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club decided to invest significant effort in working with our closest Middle School - Central School of Science. Because this project was such a success, we are honored to share our experiences and encourage other clubs, businesses, organizations and individuals to work with their local schools.

We had the following goal: to help inspire and academically support students, especially students at risk, to enhance their likelihood of graduating high school. Both Central and we believed strongly that students are in need of supportive adults.

In our discussions with Central' soutstanding principal, we decided to focus on several areas, which had the best potential of supporting and inspiring students, while complementing our club's strengths and schedules. The areas of engagement included: helping students most in need with their basic skills through weekly classroom Math Tutoring; getting students excited about future careers (and the importance of high school graduation to pursue these careers) through Power Lunches and the Career Fair; helping students with their job skills so they could prepare themselves for the workforce and build momentum to graduate through Mock Job Interviews; and assisting students with developing their passions to keep them engaged in school though helping with Intensives and Afterschool Activities. Over 90 Rotarians signed up to help.

Importantly, Central students also contributed to our club. Their choir came to kick off the Rotarian sign-up day, and Central students helped with our annual Planet Walk clean-up effort. Students also provided thank you pictures; and the Principal and two teachers presented a year-end speech to our Club emphasizing the positive impacts that the Club's engagement had on students.

Here are the results, as compiled by Central:

• Nearly 75% of CMSS students who had an opportunity to work with a Rotarian felt that they improved academically due to that relationship.

• 7th grade students who were enrolled in the Strategies for Success math class, which was assisted daily by Rotarian members made gains this year on the Standards-Bases Assessments in the area of math. Their average score raised 20 points over their scores last year.

• 100 percent of students enrolled in Strategies for Success math class improved their scores on the Successmaker online evaluation system.

• And, Central's Year End Report concluded that "The School-Business Partnership between the Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club and Central Middle School of Science was hugely successful. In its first year, this partnership succeeded in helping students succeed academically, socially, and professionally....Students, teachers, and volunteers all agreed, through formal and informal feedback, that this program was a success."

In response to the question: "This year, the Downtown Anchorage Rotary Club helped me by..."over 70 students wrote comments. Here are some representative ones:

• "Getting my grades up and understanding education is the key to having a successful life in times to come. They helped me understand why I come to school every day of the week."

• "They helped me choose a career to do, and they have helped me by making me a little more focused and caring about what I'm learning so I can be ahead in life."

• "Helping me very much with math in Strategies for Success."

• "I had spoken with a couple Rotary members at the mock interviews, which was a great experience. The power lunches were also a great addition to the school. I hope to see you guys sometime in the future. Please come back to Central next year."

To achieve the critically important Anchorage goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, we need broad-based community engagement. The Rotary-Central Partnership is an example of how any group or organization can work effectively with a school for the benefit of the students. And, it was truly and equally rewarding for all of the adults who invested time with our wonderful youth.

Deborah Williams and Cheryl Myers are co-chairs of the Anchorage Downtown Rotary Club's 90 Percent Graduation by 2020 Committee.