Durham, N.C. — A new program aimed at helping to improve low-performing schools started Wednesday at Neal Middle School in Durham.
Durham Public Schools is investing approximately $400,000 over the next three years to collaborate with the Boston-based volunteer group Citizens Schools to extend the school day from seven hours to nearly 10 to help improve learning for the school's sixth-grade students.
Maya Bugg, the Citizens Schools organizer at Neal Middle, says the mandatory program uses hands-on learning to reach students, gives them time to get one-on-one help with their homework and allows them to learn about college options and take on apprenticeships focused on science, technology and math.
"We are hoping to see scores go up," Bugg said. "We are hoping to see students who are engaged and excited about learning."
Sheronda Witter is one of 18 Citizens Schools volunteer instructors working with 284 Neal students beyond the normal school day to help improve those scores.
"We have fun. We do all these academic things, but we do it in a fun way so it's not like, 'I have been sitting in class all day, and now I have to sit in class more.'"
Citizens Schools started in 1995 to help middle schools improve student achievement. Today, there are more than 31 schools participating in the program in Durham, Charlotte and 15 other cities in seven states.
Durham school system administrators say the program has seen great success on similar initiatives, seeing average annual gains in proficiency of nine percentage points in math and seven points in English on standardized tests.
In North Carolina, the program launched in 2006 and is expected to work with 550 students in 2011-2012. The group partnered with Durham schools beginning in 2008.