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Closing Gaps in Oklahoma

NEA Foundation helps educators, community members work together to boost student achievement

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Monday, December 7, 2009 -- Two years ago, barely half of the Hispanic students at Putnam City West High School in Oklahoma City could muster a passing score on a state graduation exam in reading. When the school opened its door for its first-ever Noche de Padres Hispános, or Hispanic Family Night, just a few dozen parents showed up.

But these days, through an energetic partnership between educators and community members, funded in part by a grant from the National Education Association, the achievement gaps at Putnam City West are well on their way to closing. Last year, 77 percent of Hispanic students passed the state English II assessment, and the number of graduating Hispanic seniors rose by nearly 70 percent.

All this, in a school where 72 percent of students live below the federal poverty line and 40 percent will leave before the school year’s end.

The grant from NEA’s Public Engagement Project laid the foundation for “Compadres in Education,” a community conversation project designed to get Hispanic parents and community members involved in the education of their children. Among their tasks: identifying the reasons for the achievement gaps and writing plans to address them.

Through training provided by NEA and the Oklahoma Education Association, local community leaders were trained in facilitation, so that they can keep these conversations going without external help.

In addition to NEA, OEA and the Putnam City Association of Classroom Educators, partners include the University of Oklahoma, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gear Up and others.

Hundreds of parents now attend these Hispanic Family Nights, hosted by the Compadres in Education. On these nights, parents might hear more about the value of higher education, through presentations that compare the earning power of college graduates to high school dropouts. Teachers help parents fill out college financial aid forms and applications for Oklahoma’s Promise, a state scholarship program for students from families with annual incomes below $50,000. Bilingual teachers work individually with Hispanic families on college plans.

On other nights, they might also talk about the legal rights of immigrants, the challenges of parenting teens in today’s world, and entrance requirements for colleges. Conversations are far ranging, but tailored to the specific interests of Putnam City West’s Hispanic families.

Other actions taken by Putnam City West:

  • Earning a $20,000 grant from IBM to pay for translation software;
  • Hiring more bilingual teachers;
  • Providing more professional development about ELL learners;
  • Writing course descriptions in Spanish and English, with an emphasis on college entrance requirements;
  • Expanding opportunities for student service-learning in the community, especially among students at risk of dropping out.


Learn about NEA's Priority Schools Campaign to help transform schools in need