Setting Students on a Path to Success

Path Project 4Jim Hollandsworth is the founder and executive director of The Path Project, an ER partner based in suburban Atlanta that seeks to help at-risk children close the achievement gap, graduate from high school, become productive members of society and “find the right path for their lives” through academic, social and spiritual development. Here Jim shares some encouraging success stories from The Path Project’s work in Atlanta and beyond.

One of our main goals for students who are part of the Path Project is that they would graduate high school with a plan for their future. For six years we’ve been focused on this goal. We’ve seen many of our students improve their grades at school, but we’ve also continued to see students struggle in middle and high school.

Through conversations with local and state education leaders, and families in the communities we serve, we’ve realized that a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school depends on their ability to read in elementary school. In fact, students who are reading on or above grade level by 3rd grade are 400 percent more likely to graduate high school than students who are reading below grade level.

In Georgia, Latino students have a 57 percent graduation rate, the lowest of any demographic in the state. The Mexican students in the communities we serve have an even lower graduation rate because of factors including poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and parents who didn’t complete high school.

Path Project 1In response to this research, we have partnered with an initiative by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal called “Get Georgia Reading,” the goal of which is to get low-income students in the state reading on or above grade level by 3rd grade. (Pictured at left are my wife, Melinda, Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal, state Board of Education representative Mike Royal and me at the statewide launch of this campaign.)

Last year we launched our own Literacy Program for K-2nd graders in the Gwinnett Estates mobile home park, aimed at increasing their exposure to reading and language every day after school. We began tracking the Kindergarteners who were part of that program last year and who were part of our preschool programs before that. By the end of last school year, 15 of 16 students were reading on or above grade level.

Path Project 2Knowing how important this is to long-term academic success, we are thrilled with these results! Our staff and volunteers have done an amazing job in leading this program at Gwinnett Estates, and now we’re expanding our model to other communities. One of the biggest challenges in Mexican immigrant communities is overcoming high dropout rates. Our goal is to change this trend, one community at a time, in Georgia and beyond.

In fact, we’re even starting to export this model internationally. Working with Ron and Amy Townsend in the ER South Africa office, we’ve been able to share some of these ideas for an after-school literacy program they are launching in January. It’s encouraging to see multiple ER partners work together to help at-risk kids learn to read!

Path Project 3In addition to the Literacy Program’s success, we’re excited about several more initiatives, programs and success stories from our communities:

  • Middle/High Leadership Academy: We’ve launched a pilot program in our largest community for students in grades 6 through 12 to help with academics, career exposure, college awareness, driver’s licenses and other life skills. Thirty students are part of this program.
  • Soccer League: In partnership with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we are helping kids get professional soccer instruction, and more importantly, character training and relationship building with a coach each week. We’re seeing boys respond to this who have never been part of our programs before!
  • Summer Camps: We helped more than 200 students attend camps this past summer, including FCA Soccer Camp (120 students) and our own Path Project Big Camp (140 students).
  • High School Graduates: This year we’ll see four of our students from the Gwinnett Estates community graduate from high school. This is significant because historically the dropout rate in these communities has been really low. In fact, over the past six years, we know of only four students total from Gwinnett Estates who have graduated high school. We’ve known each of these current seniors since they were in 6th grade, and it’s been a joy to walk with them as they purse this goal of graduation.

To learn more about The Path Project, visit www.path-project.org.

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