Connecting Students with Mentors and Technology: Washburn High School Check and Connect
In 2002, Minneapolis Public Schools implemented a program called Check and Connect in its high schools to help disengaged students succeed in school. The program focuses on students who are failing classes, getting into trouble and who need extra support in order to graduate on time.
At the core of the program is a relationship between the student and a trained mentor. The mentor both advocates for and challenges the student and partners with the family, school and community to make education a priority for the student. The Check and Connect mentors at Washburn High School, Mike Hastert and Jenna Otten, each have a caseload of 40 students who are in danger of not graduating from high school.
Mike and Jenna check in on each student’s attendance and performance on a daily basis, however, most importantly they build a relationship with them.
“The relationship has to come first. We’re on a first name basis with the students because we don’t want to be seen as another authority figure telling them how to act and how to live,” said Hastert. “They know that we’re there to listen and be a friend and, because they trust us, they allow us to teach them things – such as the importance of computer skills.”
Many teachers are requiring students to use computers to type papers, do research and turn in homework via email. Unfortunately, many of the students involved in the Check and Connect program don’t have access to computers at home, presenting yet another barrier to success in school. Mike and Jenna created a program called Laptops for Learning and turned to Minnesota Computers for Schools (MCFS) to help provide affordable, high-quality laptops for program.
MCFS has donated 10 computers to the Check and Connect program at Washburn High School. The students can use the computers while in the Check and Connect room, or they can check them out to use for their schoolwork outside of class.
Since the Minneapolis Public School district implemented Check and Connect in 2002, the district graduation rate has increased from 78% to 85% in the school year ending in 2010.
Furthermore, school completion rates among the Check and Connect students was 57% as of June 2010, significantly higher that a similar group of high risk Minneapolis students, which was 25%.
As the statistics show, there is a lot of work to be done and more kids who need extra support. Mike and Jenna would love to see the program grow to accommodate the kids who aren’t officially part of the program.
“There are about 100 kids, who aren’t part of the program, who drop in on a daily basis,” said Hastert. “They see the relationship we have with the other students and the help we provide and they’re drawn to the room.”
Check and Connect not only provides students with a mentor to provide encouragement and guidance throughout the year, but the program gives students access to the technology necessary to develop invaluable skills that will help them succeed in school.