Dan D. Rogers students get valuable instruction from Ridgewood UMC volunteers.

A few days ago, Back Talk reader Carol Bell-Walton sent us a story about extensive work Ridgewood Park UMC has done with neighboring East Dallas school Dan D. Rogers.  The church pastor was preaching outreach and members realized they didn’t need to reach far to find someone in need of help. Ridgewood volunteers helped the students raise standardized test scores significantly  by implementing programs that include science project help, after-school tutoring and a school garden project. Amazingly, with help from Ridgewood members, the students and staff at Dan D. Rogers, who had in years past struggled and fallen short of Recognized accountability rating, worked their way up to Exemplary status. Pretty cool story.

They still need volunteers to help keep the programs going.

After the jump, read Bell-Walton’s article in full …

Pastor Rob Spencer at Ridgewood Park United Methodist Church preached many Sundays on looking for opportunities to serve others as part of the United Methodist “10,000 Doors Campaign.” As worshipper Rebecca Cartier heard his message, she found herself sitting in the pew asking, “Why Not Knock Next Door?” Rebecca loves strong communities and finds it sad that many churches have lost that connection with their immediate neighborhood with congregants often driving from far away to attend. With the intent to better connect and “root” Ridgewood Park UMC in the neighborhood, she decided that a plan revolving around education and children would be the best place to start.

Dan D. Rogers is next door to Ridgewood Park UMC and Rebecca soon had a meeting with Principal Yolanda Rodriguez and Adriana Gonzalez, the school’s Science Instructional Coach, to ask what her church could do to better support the school. The conversation quickly turned to science, and Rebecca learned that the school missed the Recognized rating by just 7% points on the science portion of the TAKS test. After brainstorming, they zeroed in on three science programs that Ridgewood Park UMC kicked off last year: a Science Fair Project Workshop, one-on-one tutoring, and a school garden.

Principal Rodriguez, who came to the school four years ago, has the entire staff at Dan D. Rogers — from Principal to Maintenance — on board and working toward improving the student’s test grades. Visionary leadership, dedicated teachers, and extra-curricular enrichment programs (including an after school program made possible through a DISD grant), all work toward the improvement of test scores.

The science passing percentage was 35% when Principal Rodriguez arrived four years ago and the scores climbed significantly up to 59.4% in her first year as principal. Despite significant increases, the science scores kept the school from being rated “Recognized” in 2008-09, scoring at 68% rather than the necessary 75%. In 2009-10, new guidelines required 80% passing to be “Recognized,” so last year’s ambitious goal was to help the students improve by 12 points.

Rebecca approached the Ridgewood Park UMC worshippers about a mission opportunity – right next door. With the help and support of the congregation, “Science Minds” launched three outreach projects; all aimed at helping the school increase the TAKS Science Test Scores. Last fall, Science Fair Project Workshops hosted 18 at-risk students at the church for hands-on science projects. Students completed one of four Science Fair projects that followed the project requirements of the school. The projects employed the scientific method approach and were constructed by the students with the help of 13 church volunteers over the course of three Saturday mornings.

The Side-By-Science Program is a mentoring program that matches a volunteer with a student for a one-on-one learning experience. The focus is on science including helping students review vocabulary and concepts for the upcoming science TAKS test.  Last year five volunteers from Ridgewood Park UMC helped tutor at-risk students. Tutoring occurred throughout the year, but became more concentrated in the Spring before the TAKS test.

The hands-on approach and the one-on-one mentoring, coupled with the dedicated staff and extracurricular enrichment programs at Dan D. Rogers, had unexpected results. Not only did the students meet the original goal of reaching the 80% passing rate in science to meet the “Recognized” criteria, but exceeded that goal with 92.2% passing in science, and earned an overall classification of “Exemplary” — the highest TAKS test score rating. Science Minds was the community component of a concerted overall effort to elevate education. Rebecca feels it was beneficial for the kids to know that not only their teachers, but also people outside the school walls care about their success.

Plans are being made now for science programs this fall. Rebecca is currently seeking volunteers to help lead various projects (including, hopefully, one in Spanish for kids in the dual language program).  The “Sci-Why Saturdays” workshops are tentatively scheduled for the last two weekends of October and the first weekend in November. The attendance should grow significantly as all students at Dan D. Rogers are required to complete a Science Fair project at the end of the first semester.

This past spring, Ridgewood Park UMC began construction on a working and hands-on school garden to be used across all grades to teach various science concepts. The garden is being constructed and planted under the guidelines of the Local Master Gardeners Help Desk, which is run by the Dallas County Agrilife Extension Services. Twenty volunteers helped construct the twelve 4’ x 12’ wood frames that will be used to create the raised gardens. Installation of the frames was postponed due to summer construction at the school. Rebecca is currently working with the school to coordinate a schedule for installation of the frames on school grounds, dirt work, and planting programs.

Of course, one-on-one tutors are always needed. As Rebecca says, “A little time and attention will go a long way in helping our Ridgewood Park community kids keep their academics on track.” There are 10,000 Doors where opportunities to serve others are available. Rebecca Cartier has opened the door and stepped through to make a difference for the children in her church’s community.—Carol Bell-Walton

Interested in getting involved? Contact the church.

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