Loyolans work with high school students to decrease dropout rate

Posted on: November 6th, 2013

By Alexa Asmus
Loyola Phoenix

TNT aims to keep high school students from dropping out of school. Loyola student coaches work with high school students across the city like those at Curie High School (above).

TNT aims to keep high school students from dropping out of school. Loyola student coaches work with high school students across the city like those at Curie High School (above).

With dropout rates for high school freshmen higher than 30 percent in Chicago, many schools, including Loyola, offer tutoring opportunities to keep these students on track.

Target New Transitions (TNT) is a Loyola-run program, that works with students at local high schools to help keep them in school. For 22 weeks, the Loyola students, referred to as “coaches,” travel to Curie High School in Chicago’s southwest side or Kelly High School in Brighton Park on Saturday mornings to offer school assistance to students who want it. Director Mary Charles, grant director of Loyola’s School of Education, and Academic Programs Coordinator Helen Gerety lead the coaches in TNT.

“TNT is a hybrid of tutoring and mentoring together,” Charles said.

The focus is not only on the schoolwork, but also on the relationship between the students and the coaches. Loyola students working for the program received specialized training before going out to the schools, according to Charles.

Charles and Gerety use teambuilding games and exercises meant to help the coaches understand the situation of the high school students with whom they interact.

“We are going into environments that are very different from the places where most of our coaches grew up,” Charles said.

A Loyola student coach reads with students a Curie High School

A Loyola student coach reads with students a Curie High School

The goal is to bring them back to a space where they can remember the trials they felt freshman year and connect with the students, said Charles.

Coaches are paired up for the semester, so they can work off each other every week. The program matches someone with a math or science background with someone in the humanities, for example, so they can easily cover any homework they might come across.

Loyola senior Emily Taft is a third year coach with TNT. She says that she feels the program is beneficial to both the coaches and the students they work with.

“Sometimes it can be really difficult to get up and be somewhere at 7:45 on a Saturday morning, but the students are awesome, and that makes it worth it,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn towards working with students and kids, and this program really confirmed that.”

Gerety and Charles teach methods that are primarily focused on empowerment. The end result is that both the high school freshmen and the Loyola students can grow together and start to understand their own abilities to create change.

In the first few years since its creation, TNT has been successful, according to Charles. Eighty three percent of the first freshman class in the program graduated from a Chicago public high school, which is a significant improvement on the norm.

In 2013, the five-year graduation rate from Chicago Public High Schools hit an all-time high of 63 percent. This percentage rate is almost 19 percentage points higher than the graduation rate 10 years ago, according to a May press release from CPS.

The results are “a testament to the relationships they are building,” Gerety said.

A Loyola coach works with students.

A Loyola coach works with students.

These relationships go beyond the classroom; some coaches had ice cream over the summer with their students, while others kept in touch over texts and social media, according to Gerety.

TNT only hires sophomores and students in higher grades to be coaches. Gerety said these students have proven they can be successful academically at Loyola, and have had time to center themselves in such a way that they can provide helpful advice along with homework help.

This is more than just instructional time for these high school students, according to Charles. They are taken away from the traditional classroom setting and placed with college students who are there to help them. The program works with an average of more than 50 students on any given Saturday, with more students showing up around times of exams for help.

Charles said, however, it is not only the high school kids who are affected by this program. The coaches can come away with a better understanding of their own power to create change.

“If you come into this with the right head and the right heart, you will be the person changed,” said Charles, speaking about the coaches.

TNT awareness is growing on Loyola’s campus because of its success and unique experience. Charles described it as “a dynamite program for freshmen.” It has the ability to pull more Loyola students in each year, students who, Charles said, can truly make a difference on an individual level in Chicago Public Schools.

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