Akron Promise’s Student Success Team Steers Kenmore-Garfield Students Towards Bright Outcomes
by Jeanne-Hélène Roy
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
–Dr. James Comey, Child Psychiatrist and Education Specialist, Yale University
Dr. James Comey’s simple, declarative sentence – delivered during a 1995 lecture – speaks mountains of truth in K-12 education, where often a strong connection with an adult will inspire students of opportunity to succeed after high school and into adulthood. For Stephanie Martin, a Nursing and Patient Care instructor at Kenmore-Garfield High School, Comey’s words hit home over the course of a discussion with Tom Ghinder, Founder of Akron Promise, an educational non-profit launched in 2015. In 2017, Akron Promise established a direct working relationship with Kenmore-Garfield High School, and two years later the non-profit announced the Kenmore-Garfield Stark State Scholarship.
The Student Success Team
Since the implementation of its scholarship program, Akron Promise also inaugurated the Student Success Team (SST), a mentoring group available to assist the entirety of Kenmore-Garfield’s 786 students. Staffed by Mike DiFalco, the school’s Academic Achievement Coordinator, and Margaret Tulay, an Education major at the University of Akron, the crew welcomed Akron Promise’s new Executive Director Dr. Jeanne-Hélène (Néna) Roy last week; since the SST’s inception Ghinder served as the group’s third member.
On bi-monthly SST meeting days, learners arrive with their APSissued Chromebooks in tow, ready to participate in goal-setting activities while relishing sandwiches provided by the team. Skills taught range from time-management to ACT prep and résumé-writing. Seniors learn to complete FAFSA forms as well as to compose college application essays and apply for jobs. The SST continues to monitor seniors after graduation as they segue into the workforce and/or enroll in college programs.
Flexibility: Celebrating the Individual
Ghinder attributes the program’s success to its underlying flexibility. Rather than approach mentoring with a one-size-fits-all mindset, the SST practices a version of “radical hospitality,” which in this context entails meeting students where they are to address their own expressed needs.
By considering each student’s unique circumstances and goals, the SST not only provides directional assistance to learners, but also cultivates qualities that can’t be found in a manual: respect and empathy. When met with direct eye contact and supportive words, humans tend to respond in kind. Part of the SST’s philosophy, then, is to transcend mentoring models that adhere to a rigid structure, as well as to bring a “human touch” into the equation.
It Takes a Village
We all know that nobody can brave it alone in the world, and this aphorism certainly holds true in the case of the SST’s efforts. Without the help of invited guest speakers who periodically hold lunchtime Q&A sessions and parents/community members who assist in transporting students to field-trip destinations, the SST wouldn’t be able to extend as many options for enrichment as it does to learners. The relationships Kenmore-Garfield students form with engaged adults in their midst are ultimately bonds for life, bonds passed down from one generation to the next.
For more information on Akron Promise and the SST, see:
Dr. Jeanne-Hélène Roy