Most people think low-achieving students are unable to turn their academic careers around, but the people behind the new Accelerator program at Woodrow Wilson have proven they can.

The Accelerator program is a joint project between Woodrow Wilson and Dallas CAN! Academy, a local prep school that helps high-risk students earn their high school equivalency diploma and attend community college.

The Accelerator program targets students who are at-risk of not completing high school. The program is designed to help them succeed.

“We decided we wanted to do more preventative work,” says Michael Thigpen, academic director at the Academy.

Students for the Accelerator Program are identified by principal and counselor recommendations, grades and standardized test scores.

The program is housed at Woodrow, where Dallas CAN! staff work with two groups of students. Morning classes consist of freshmen and sophomores who failed Algebra I and English I. Afternoon classes center on upperclassmen who have failed the TAAS test, which must be passed to graduate from high school. The students receive individualized instruction during their Accelerator classes and attend regular classes for the rest of the day.

In its first year, the program served 23 students in the morning and 33 students in the afternoon.

And the results are encouraging, says Robin Birnbaum, development director for the Academy. After one semester, 15 of the students made the honor roll in all subjects. The average grade of all the students in the morning class rose by more than 17 points.

Birnbaum says the program serves students who simply can’t keep up with the pace of a normal classroom.

The first year of the program was funded by a Meadows Foundation grant. For the second year, the Foundation has agreed to provide half of the $120,000 budget. Academy officials are currently meeting with DISD to discuss potential funding and the possibility of expanding the program into other high schools – where word of the program’s success has spread.

“We’ve been asked by three other schools for the program,” Thigpen says.

Birnbaum says that with the benefit of individualized instruction, some at-risk students can turn their lives around.

“It’s not every student who gets the encouragement or a pat on the back from parents,” she says. “These kids just need a little TLC, so to speak.”

“Kids who have never made the honor roll before are now making the honor roll.”

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