Atlanta–based nonprofit Leap Year was recently received the ascena Foundation’s Roslyn S. Jaffe Award of $100,000 for its innovative two-generation approach to education. High school graduates who are low-income or first in their family to pursue post-secondary education spend a gap year tutoring 2nd grade readers in the morning and preparing for college in the afternoon.
“I was on my honeymoon when I found out that we were the grand prize winner! We want to use it to build the foundation so we can expand in the future,” said Leap Year Founder and Executive Director Amber Scott.
Scott drew her inspiration for Leap Year from her family. Her maternal grandfather had 3rd grade education, but her mother was first in her family to go to college.
“My parents instilled in us the value of education where it was expected that my brother and I were going to college. I went on to grad school, then work in the nonprofit space. It kept bothering me that some 40 years later my parents’ story is still the anomaly,” Scott said.
One in four metro Atlanta high school graduates attain a post-secondary degree, while 60% of the jobs in Georgia will require one by 2025. And 40% of Atlanta Public School (APS) third graders read on grade level, which is a predictor for high school graduation.
“If you haven’t started out with strong reading, you’re less likely to take the ACT, to graduate high school and go onto college,” Scott said. She decided to tackle both literacy and college readiness.
“That’s how we put the model together – knowing that we wanted to help our Leap Year Fellows get into college but also see if we could try to change the path for the next generation so it’s not as hard,” Scott said.
In the fall, Fellows focus on the ACT and the ACCUPLACER to assess their readiness for a spring college course.
“We use the ACT as a tool. We are reviewing English, Math and Reading skills. How to take notes, how to listen actively, how to stay organized, and how to study for an exam,” Scott said.
On average, Leap Year students have increased their ACT score by three points.
“It helps boost their self esteem and academic growth. They know ‘if I grind, I’ll see results’,“ Scott said.
In the spring, Leap Year Fellows earn their first college credits at the Georgia State University Perimeter campus, while supported by a program manager to help with course content and time management.
“We are hoping to add a math class next year with GSU so our students experience English 1101 and Math 1101 with Leap Year so that it’s not as scary when they are on their own,” Scott said.
This is just half the story of Leap Year. Fellows spend their mornings tutoring 2nd graders at Deerwood Academy to read, earning up to $550 per month. They act as a teacher’s helper but also work independently with a small group of students using Reading A-Z, an evidenced-based curriculum.
“Fellows who look like them, from schools in their neighborhood, being mentors in their class saying ‘reading is important, I’m going to college you should also go to college. You can.’ I think that’s so important,” Scott said.
Deerwood Academy teachers agree.
“The students are eager to participate with [Fellow] Mr. Roberson. They are engaged when he is tutoring them and enjoy reading and demonstrating their ability to comprehend the questions,” 2nd grade teacher Sylvia Coleman shared.
Principal Camisha Perry is also a fan. “Last year, over 85% of the students we worked with had growth in reading. And Principal Perry says this is some of the highest growth she’s seen in 2nd grade,” Scott said.
The 2018-2019 cohort of eight Fellows tutored 120 2nd graders and are now halfway through freshman year at GSU. After the gap year, Fellows can go to whichever school they choose but GSU makes a compelling case.
“GSU has the highest rate of graduating first generation students in the country. At the Perimeter campus, a student can earn their associate’s degree and Pell will cover it. Then you can transfer over to the Downtown campus to get your bachelors,” Scott said.
Even after moving on from the program, Leap Year does monthly check-ins during a student’s freshmen year to see how’s it going, remind students about office hours and things other students might ask their parents.
“Leap Year meant a second chance to prepare for college. It also taught me the meaning of commitment. From Deerwood Academy, I learned that it is important to not only be the student but a teacher, too. Putting yourself in both places will help you value the importance of learning and how far it can take you,” Leap Year alumni Katy Gudino said.
“All of our students are so talented. It’s just about providing those extra supports – so they can reach the potential that we know they can. As a community, we can change the trajectory for our kids.” Scott said.
To learn more about Leap Year, visit theleapyear.org.