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WCS students begin climbing Ladders to Hope to raise ACT scores

Page High School seniors Hannah Berny and Rachel Bailey pick up their Chromebook at the county Ag Expo campus to begin their endeavors tutoring for the student-led initiative ‘Ladders to Hope,’ which will help students improve their ACT scores.  Submitted

At Independence High School—and all high schools across the county—student tutors and their peer partners are prepared to embark upon a new adventure with an end goal of raising ACT scores as part of the “Ladders to Hope” initiative.

“The atmosphere here is awesome. We’re really excited about it.  This is something that has never been done here in America ever,” said IHS Student Body President Micah Howard. Howard is one of 27 students who serves on the student advisory board for Ladders to Hope. 

Ladders to Hope, a student-led ACT prep tutoring program backed by the support of WCS Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney, kicked off October 1 when about 648 Chromebook laptop computers were distributed to students for the program’s commencement at the Williamson County AgExpo Park. 

The morning consisted of students and WCS staff admiring laptops, playing music and even line dancing on the Ag building floor.

Students will use special ACT prep software on the laptops to administer tutoring sessions. 

A goal of distributing about 801 computers—the exact amount of students who need to score a 21 to qualify for the state lottery HOPE scholarship for four years—marks the superintendent’s initial goal. However Looney says that as more students see the program in action, he anticipates more students will sign up. 

“I am so proud of our students,” Looney said. “They are excited about this initiative, and I am expecting great results.”

The program allows ACT high-scoring students (21 or higher) to tutor those students who have not yet scored a 21—the score required to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship. And, they earn a laptop while they are doing it, if they meet the criteria.

The initiative garnered much support from the superintendent who helped to raise funds to provide participating students with laptops and educate the community about the project. 

In a recent letter requesting community support Looney wrote, 

“Talk about different; I am amazed at the level of maturity and leadership shown by the class of 2013-14. Kids helping kids prepare for a brighter tomorrow. Now, that is genius and inspiring.”

As an incentive in lieu of the usual $7.25 per hour compensation for student tutoring, tutors will get to keep the laptop upon completion of 40 tutoring hours from October to April. Likewise, those students receiving assistance will be able to keep the laptop if they meet the program’s goal of scoring at least a 21 on the ACT. 

The WCS Class of 2013 achieved an ACT average score of 23.4, the highest score in district history and higher than the state average of 19.5.

At an ACT press conference in August, Looney said that as part of Ladders for Hope, the district is striving for all high school seniors to qualify for the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship. 

 About 73 percent of students in the Class of 2014 already qualify for the HOPE scholarship.  

From money raised by donations and a campaign initiated by Looney, more than $200,000 was raised from the community combined with matched by the business community. 

The superintendent is about $40,000 short of reaching his goal of raising $240,000 to help fund the program, which is funded by the donations and some district funds allotted to tutoring. 

However, program funding generated discussion among board members at their work session in September regarding moving line items from tutoring pay to ACT prep equipment. 

Ultimately, the board approved $198,245 to fund some of the laptops for tutors. The amount represents money already set aside by the district allotted to tutoring salaries. However, instead of salaries, the money will be used for laptops. 

During school board’s work session last month, school board member Gary Anderson said he appreciated students tutoring students, but felt uncomfortable using money for tutoring salaries for the purchase of equipment. 

Some board members such as Janice Mills did not realize that the board would have to move line items to fund the project. Looney apologized for the misunderstanding, assuring the board that no tax dollars would be spent on the project as he promised earlier in the year. 

However, school board member Eric Welch said cost savings would result from the Chromebooks as opposed to paying students $7.25 an hour because the district is purchasing the laptops at a reduced rate.

 “When we hired Dr. Looney, we did so with the understanding that he was going to think outside the box,” Welch said.

“We are allowing students to earn a device just like a paycheck—instead of on an hourly basis, it’s on a project basis.

“This is an opportunity to try something different that could be wildly successful.” 

Students will take the ACT periodically through the school year. The first opportunity is this month.

 “I was absolutely inspired by students Tuesday and reminded why we do the work that we do,” Looney said. 

“Students’ enthusiasm and commitment was invigorating. I am thrilled, excited and humbled at the level of community support whether they gave $50,000 or $10. This could be a difference maker in my opinion. Some students could walk away with a scholarship in hand instead of just a dream about it. Not everyone in Williamson County lives in a million dollar house and can afford to go to college unless they get help.”

“I would like to get 801 to zero students [scoring below a 21],” he said.

Posted on: 10/3/2013


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