Higher Achievement Joins Coalition for New Approach to Middle Grades

Higher Achievement was invited to participate in the Remaking Middle School Summit, held February 12-13, 2019, at Gallup Headquarters in Washington, DC.  Dimelza Gonzales-Flores, Higher Achievement Director of Site Operations of the DC Metro Affiliate, and Alan Elder, a Higher Achievement Mentor, joined a panel that sought to answer the question: What should we know about working with middle school students?  The panel discussion also covered what middle school students respond to, how to support others working in a middle school environment, and how to consider all aspects of a middle school scholar from academics through youth development.

The Summit was hosted by the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), New York Life Foundation, Altria, and Youth-Nex, which is part of the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development.  The organizations joined together to rally a broad coalition of stakeholders nationally around a new vision and action agenda for young adolescents in the middle grades.  The goal was to begin to generate solutions to transform the middle grades and build a national vision for shifting the middle school experience to a more positive one for all youth.  (Learn more about the Remaking Middle School Summit.)

Dimelza and Alan were impressed with the summit from the first group to speak, which featured middle school students who provided a baseline of young voices to kick off the event.  Other summit participants were predominantly researchers and funders.  As representatives of Higher Achievement, Dimelza and Alan provided the unique viewpoint of practitioners as well as the out of school time perspective.

“I was excited to participate in the summit, because we were one of the few organizations there that works directly with students,” said Dimelza.  “I was reminded that we have a special place at Higher Achievement.  We ask lots of questions about scholars – are they supported and safe, what’s their environment like at home and at school, are they in positive relationships, and are they engaged?  Looking at the whole scholar enables us to make the needle move and see our scholars succeed.”

A focus of the summit, but particularly this panel, was the importance of incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) in working with middle school students, especially with regard to appreciating the full range of a student’s experiences and needs.  Higher Achievement has long been committed to including SEL best practices in the program curriculum and in the training of staff and mentors.  In fact, Higher Achievement partnered with American Institutes of Research to create a series of bite-sized, practical online trainings in SEL for our staff and volunteers.  We also drafted a three-part webinar series on middle school best practices, which offers practical, research-based guidance on six common scenarios that practitioners face.  (Click here to read more about Higher Achievement and SEL.)

Both Dimelza and Alan came away from the summit thinking about Higher Achievement’s purpose beyond providing high-quality programming after school and during the summer.  They reflected on the need to approach scholars as individuals and to serve as an environment where more than academic needs are met.  The summit also sparked thought about the value of Higher Achievement in their own lives.

Alan said, “Mentors spend a lot of time training, preparing for working with their groups of scholars, and working on ways to improve.  It’s a lot of time, but I have a passion for youth.  I believe their future is our future.  There’s a lot of joy in being a mentor and giving back to the community that I came from.”