Member Kudos: Chemic Challenge, Midland Public Schools

2018 Education Excellence Award Recipient

DashBoard, July 18, 2018

The 25 recipients of the 2018 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight the Chemic Challenge at Midland High School in Midland Public Schools.

Midland Chemic Challenge Students

History/Purpose of Program: The Chemic Challenge is a Summer Enrichment Program designed for incoming At-Risk Freshmen to help reinforce and strengthen the skills necessary for high school including critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance and discovery learning. Math scores for our ninth graders have continued to decline and this was an opportunity to change that trend. This month-long program was tailored for 80 of our most At-Risk eighth graders (defined economically and academically At-Risk). Students were engaged in daily in Mathematics curriculum both directly (in a ninth grade HS Algebra course), as well as indirectly (through Woodshop, Welding, Coding, Physics and other elective STEM courses) all taught by Midland High School ninth grade teachers. The students averaged an 87.5% attendance rate and exit data depicted both high levels of student engagement as well as monumental student growth in targeted areas of Algebra 1 mathematical skillsets. Students who completed the Summer Challenge were more prepared for high school, had a teacher advocate who knew them personally, mastered Algebra common core standards, increased their math efficacy, and were immediately more involved and invested in school overall. The Chemic Challenge was so successful that we are hoping to offer it again to our new incoming Freshmen! 

Midland Chemic Challenge Students

Program Impact: The Chemic Challenge was designed to help close the “global achievement gap” that we are facing nationwide, statewide and in our school district with an ever-growing At-Risk student population. History shows that the greatest gap facing most students is TIME. . .time lost to falling behind in elementary and middle schools combined with summer lapse, which aggregates exponentially by a student’s eighth grade year. The Chemic Challenge summer program directly targets Math Readiness as research shows that “an eighth grade student had at least a 75% chance of dropping out if he or she attended school less than 80% of the time in eighth grade, and failed mathematics during the eighth grade.” (Burrus & Roberts, 2012) Furthermore, Algebra is now considered the “gateway” course for the mathematics and science route that prepares students for success in later schooling (Matthews and Farmer, 2008). Thus, empowering incoming freshman with the skillsets necessary to be successful in high school was of utmost priority and focus. All courses were designed thematically to foster one or more of the eight mathematical practices (common core math) including making sense of problems and persevering, reasoning abstractly, attending to precision, looking for structure, constructing viable arguments, modeling with mathematics and attending to precision. Student voice and choice was implemented in designing the weekly units as well as the projects they undertook. All students experienced a variety of career technology fields including welding, woodshop, beginning coding and design, as well as personal finance and everyday economics/budgeting. Math was embedded at the heart of the program and students were immersed in real-life problemsolving algorithms on the main entrance windows or utilizing critical thinking to design, plan and build a bike pergola out in the school courtyard.

Our community was very supportive as we enlisted the help of volunteers and ESA Partnerships in offering a budget/finance course, a cooking course and even a Robotics/YouTube Creation course. Parent, student and community feedback all speak to the effectiveness and success of the Challenge! Though Ozobots, Programming, Cooking and YouTube design were deemed the favorite courses according to the exit survey data, more than 68% of students (who had just failed eighth grade math) marked “ALGEBRA and Applied Math” as the summer courses that they believe will help them the most as they enter Midland High as Freshman in the fall. Thus, students themselves understood the importance of mastering a skillset that they will see for the next four years.

Midland Chemic Challenge Students

Many students who have completed the Summer Challenge are now signing up to volunteer to assist in next summer’s program. These students have formed a mentoring club in which they will rotate weeks/day to come help partner with an eighth grader throughout the challenge month. Eighth grade students who were once checked out—failures in math, serious attendance issues—are now actively engaged members of our freshman class here at Midland High School and successfully passing Algebra courses too! All because they accepted THE CHALLENGE!

How Grant Will Be Used: Last summer was the first year for the Chemic Challenge and this coming summer we would like to not only continue the program but also expand it to include more students, more staff and more community connections. Our budget was very tight in that we allocated a great deal of funding to provide transportation via busing to all of our students who needed it as transport is the number one obstacle limiting attendance and participation in most summer enrichment programs.

Midland Chemic Challenge Students

We had community members volunteer to provide the cooking classes and career cruising options via our local ESA. We were thankful to have community partnerships in donating supplies, resources and even personnel to help teach several of the STEM and Finance Courses, however, we were unable to provide any field trips and/or opportunities to leave campus and experience STEM in laboratories and/or hands-on exhibits in our community. With the addition of an Education Excellence Grant we would have the funding to provide a few experiential learning opportunities at both the MSU Science Center and the Midland Center for the Arts Museum. At the MSU Science Center students would learn about 3D printing and utilize their CAD software to create their own designs and then print! We would like to visit the Midland Center for the Arts museum, which hosts an extensive Summer STEM Lab Exhibit where students spend an afternoon designing, creating and presenting their engineered electrical circuit houses via a special playdough (amongst other options!)

“Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes or new ways of thinking.” (Lewis and Williams, 1994) Providing our most At-Risk students the opportunity to construct their own meaning via their own firsthand experiences allows them to “learn by doing,” then apply this new knowledge to their own personal experience, and develop their own conclusions and constructs. An Education Excellence Grant would truly make this happen!

Program Coordinator: Connie Beson-Steger, Learning Coach/Teaching Coach, [email protected]

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