"Everyone doggedly works together to discover the qualities and gifts which make each Wave-Maker unique, the types of support we can provide and/or refer, and what interests, goals and passions lie within them. Then we chart a course yet remain flexible and creative to ensure successful outcomes."
Providing the Educational Opportunities that Change Lives
HARD-WON LESSONS THAT CAN TRANSFER TO OTHER URBAN SCHOOLS
Making Waves’ success with urban students is based in part on many hard lessons it learned in establishing programs in low-income communities. Each of the strategies below emerged from continually fine-tuning its efforts to become more effective in serving parents, communities, and students, and from case managing more effectively to address academic and developmental needs.
Learning While Growing
Making Waves started as an after-school program in 1989 to serve elementary children from low-income families. Over time, staff members and leaders recognized that extensive high-quality after-school tutoring services were not enough. It is essential to:
- Continually expand student supports. Each year, Making Waves has expanded the critical support services it provides to better meet its students' needs. The foundation also recognizes that the depth of problems students and families face requires more than ad hoc expertise. For example, it has created staff positions for mental health counselors to address students’ personal and family problems that go beyond the training and expertise of even the most well-trained educators.
- Expect tutors to be full-fledged mentors as well as instructors. Students look up to college students who come from the same kinds of neighborhoods and families, and have made college preparation and study a catalyst to change their lives. Making Waves continues to expand the group of role models to whom students are exposed. Beyond tutors, educators and professionals involved in Making Waves Academy and the after-school programs in Richmond and San Francisco model values and behaviors students can aspire to make their own. Students also meet top professionals in the region through site visits and mentorships. Tutors and role models regularly share their academic and career paths to give current students an idea of what career prospects lie ahead.
- Build trust with parents and the community. In high-poverty areas, parents and community leaders routinely distrust organizations that come in with good intentions but often leave before they achieve their goals. Solid relationships require the continual demonstration of a true and abiding commitment to students and families over time.
- Establish parent involvement as non-negotiable. In the early years Making Waves had trouble generating parent interest and involvement. But the foundation soon learned that it could approach universal participation by requiring it.
- Tap into the broad range of community resources across sectors. Making Waves has developed significant relationships with the communities in which its programs are located, creating close connections with the faith community; youth-serving institutions, including other public, private, and parochial schools; community leaders; and public and private service agencies. It also hires well-known professionals with deep community roots and unique expertise and connections to provide counseling, nutrition, health, test-prep, and other services. Most of Making Waves tutors are recruited from prestigious colleges in the region; several are former Wave-Makers who have graduated from college and returned to the community.
- Provide advanced standardized test preparation that is of the same caliber as that available privately to affluent students. Making Waves recognized early that it needed to do more to prepare its graduates to compete with other students. It is crucial that students are encouraged to take a broad range of college admissions tests and SAT II exams and have access to specialists who excel at those individual subjects.
- Recognize that all student-centered projects are not equal. Making Waves has learned that certain types of student projects have particular benefit in building student skills and knowledge that pay off later on. It encourages students to do research, read voraciously, and participate in academic competitions and community activities.
- Extend the school day and year. Students need at least 175 days of instruction every year and significant after-school, intersession, and summer programs. Because of the extended day and year, students attending Making Waves Academy receive more than twice the number of instructional minutes that their peers receive in traditional public school settings.
- Create a culture of success. The extended calendar is also a crucial factor in reorienting students to a new peer group that shares a set of core values crucial to success in the classroom and community. Careful attention to nurturing student aspirations, modeling core values, and focusing on academic success enables students to keep their eyes on the prize, work hard, and learn from (and lean on) each other.
- Promote healthier food options. The foundation partnered with Revolution Foods, based in California, to provide students with certified organic school snacks and meals. Students learn the benefits of good nutrition and take these lessons home to their parents to improve their own and their family’s wellness and health.
- Address student transportation needs by creating partnerships with transit companies to help subsidize the cost of going to and from school and after-school sites and for field trips.
- Develop individual learning and development plans for each student from the outset so that students can build upon strengths and remediate weaknesses prior to high school.