Aspire’s 2022-2023 Program Highlights
Out-of-school programs have a wide range of benefits, especially for low-income and historically underserved students who are most impacted by the educational opportunity gap. These programs are imperative as students need ongoing support to address pandemic-related learning loss and increased social-emotional challenges. Aspire continues to meet record growth in the number of students served without compromising the highly personalized and quality programming and results we are known for, two key goals identified in our three-year strategic plan. Additionally, Aspire has a strong track record of supporting the whole child. We have taken initiative to implement expanded reporting and measurement methods to reflect the impact of our holistic support, including not only literacy but also math gains and social-emotional growth.
Aspire continues to be the only program in South Arlington that provides targeted daily afterschool academic support at no cost to historically underserved 3rd through 8th-grade students. In order to meet the growing need for support, Aspire has invested in growing our team, allowing us to serve 50% more students than just a year ago while maintaining the highly individualized support our students deserve and that we have proven works. During the 2022-2023 school year, we served 152 3rd through 8th-grade students daily afterschool, as well as an additional 108 students during our largest six-week summer learning camp! Even as a result of Aspire’s record-breaking growth, the need for no-cost holistic out-of-school academic support remains extremely high, as demonstrated by Aspire’s active waiting lists for students and families hoping to attend both our summer and school-year programs.
Students are entering Aspire further behind previous cohorts, emphasizing the need for high-quality afterschool programs. Our fall 2022 internal iReady testing showed that 92% of Aspire students entered our programs testing one or more grade levels behind in math. Additionally, 85% of our students were testing two or more grade levels behind in reading. This is compared to pre-pandemic 2018-2019 data, where only 49% of students tested below grade level in reading. Despite these challenges, students across all three program sites made significant academic gains this year!
Enhanced Testing Provides Roadmap to Individualized Support and Better Outcomes
While math support has been a key component of our daily afterschool program, this is the first completed program year where Aspire is able to report on math outcomes with impressive results: 75% of students improved their math levels over the course of the year! These math gains were especially apparent for students identified as ELL/HILT (students learning English), where 86% improved their math level.
Additionally, by utilizing iReady for internal testing, we are able to see how students are doing in each subject area of reading and adjust curriculum and support accordingly. This year our school partners requested we spend extra time during our daily reading instruction on phonics. These efforts paid off! 73% of our students ended the year testing on grade level or above in phonics, and 94% of students tested on grade level when using high-frequency words.
Robust STEAM & Project-Based Learning
To prepare students for 21st-century careers, students participate in activities exposing them to science, technology, and business topics. Students studied volcanoes, oceans, climate change, and sustainability. These hands-on, project-based learning activities help students practice and build critical skills like problem-solving, inquiry, reasoning, and collaboration.
Projects from this year included:
- Learning about the ecosystem of the local creek.
- Constructing their own tiny paper cities to reinforce geometry skills.
- Creating a bi-weekly news broadcast where middle school students learned important research, writing, video editing, and storytelling skills.
- Creating a health magazine called “Healthy Homies” with examples of balanced meals, photo demonstrations of exercises, and stress reduction tips. They also practiced their art skills by creating a “person” made out of definitions and examples of health-related words, like endorphins, amino acids, and circuit training.
Volunteers Make a Difference
Aspire continues to provide high-intensity, 1:1 support to students with the help of our volunteer program. Volunteers provide additional individualized reading, math, and homework support to students with the greatest learning needs and where English is not their first language. Volunteers provided 736 hours of direct service to our students this year. Aspire also launched a new high school volunteer program, with over 50% of our high school volunteers comprised of former Aspire students.
One of these former students who volunteered over the summer reflected on her time mentoring younger students and how it’s benefited her as well. She said that “teaching other kids helped me improve my skills as a person. By helping them out, I learned their perception of their world, how they try to solve the problems, and what they think.” She added, “Aspire has helped me be more confident in myself and asking for help. There’s no harm in asking for help and there’s no shame, here you can do anything you want, you can just be yourself.“
Meeting Social-Emotional Learning Needs
While data on student achievement is important, the value of having a safe, joyful place for our students to learn and grow into all they aspire to be cannot be underestimated. As many students demonstrated an increased need for social-emotional support, Aspire is responding by facilitating daily social-emotional lessons for students, as well as professional development opportunities to help our AmeriCorps team best support the emotional wellness of our students. Aspire provides important opportunities for students to make friends, build a sense of self, try new things, and feel connected to their community.
We’ve especially seen a rise in social-emotional needs among our middle school students, making their gains over the school year even more significant. At the beginning of the year, only 27% of them studied hard for tests, but by the end of the year, that number was 69%. Over half of our students reported having a positive attitude about themselves all or most of the time at the end of the year. Most of the middle schoolers said that being with their friends and teachers was their favorite part of Aspire.
We are proud of the results achieved this past year and look forward to seeing what Aspire accomplishes this coming year!