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Rebound students score at graduation

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 04, 2001

Eight months ago, a group of Berkeley High parents, appalled to find 180 freshmen failing two or more classes at Berkeley High, decided to take matters into their own hands. 

They demanded, and got, money from the school district and the city to start the Rebound program for 54 failing students.  

On Friday morning, parents, teachers and school administrators packed the Berkeley High Parent Resource Center to watch 41 of the original 54 students graduate from the program. 

“At your (high school) graduation, I’m going to be looking for you,” said an emotional Katrina Scott-George, a favorite math teacher for the Rebound students over the last eight months. 

“Katrina, she never let me give up,” said Cofi Barrow, a Berkeley High freshman who went from getting almost all F’s on her report card last fall to all A’s and B’s this summer. 

From January until last week, the students, almost all of them of African American or Latino heritage, became part of a separate community at Berkeley High. They attended English and math classes that were twice as long and half the size of regular freshman English and math classes. They worked one-on-one with Rebound’s five teachers, who were dedicated to helping them not just survive Berkeley High, but graduate with enough credits to be eligible for college. 

(In keeping with national trends, most of these minority students had arrived at Berkeley High with reading and math skills well below grade level. In some cases, the students’ academic deficiencies were so pronounced that meaningful participation in the school’s regular freshman curriculum seemed impossible.) 

Not all Rebound students improved their grades as dramatically as Barrow. But most improved at least from failing grades to passing grades during the second semester, and then, over the summer, made up the credits they were missing from the fall semester.  

“If it weren’t for y’all, I wouldn’t be going to the 10th grade to tell you the truth,” said one Rebound student Friday, thanking the Parents of Children of African Descent and others who supported the Rebound program. 

Nearly all the students were more engaged in the Rebound classes than regular classes, Rebound staff said. They attended class more regularly and made more use of tutoring and counseling services available at the school. 

As Scott-George put it, “Learning is a very internal process. We learn because we want to learn; because we have some motivation to learn. I think Rebound was a success in providing these kids a place where they wanted to learn.” 

A key element in the success of the program, PCAD members said Friday, was the incredible efforts Rebound teachers and program coordinator Leslie Plettner, a Berkeley High teacher who stepped in to help guide the program last winter, made to involve the parents of Rebound students in the program.  

More than 30 Rebound parents paid a visit to their children’s classrooms at least once during the program, Plettner said. After teachers met with students each Friday to go over their progress (a fairly radical innovation in itself, at a school where large class sizes make such student-teacher relationships difficult to maintain), they called parents to give them an update as well. 

Consistent outreach to parents “held the students more accountable because the parents and teachers were on the same page,” said Plettner. “I think the (Rebound) community showed what is possible. If all the players are invested in education, then we can work to achieve an equitable outcome.” 

The Friday ceremony was bittersweet for many, however. 

PCAD member Michael Miller said he was concerned that, with Rebound coming to an end, students might have a difficult time readjusting to the regular high school environment. 

“These kids have been under some amazing care these last few months,” Miller said. “Now they have to take wing and go out on their own. And that’s kind of scary.” 

Still, Miller said the taste of success that Rebound gave to students and parents alike may go a long way to sustaining the students academic momentum. 

“If there was any question about whether the kids could do it, that’s resolved,” Miller said. “I think the parents who have been involved will continue to be involved. They understand what their kids can do.” 

And the Rebound program will not come screeching to a halt, said Irma Parker, a PCAD member and a parent liaison in Berkeley High’s Parent Resource Center. The community formed through the Rebound program will continue to thrive, she said. PCAD has already used the last of the Rebound funds to hire a guidance counselor to work specifically with the Rebound graduates, at least for the first half of the coming school year, to help them stay on track. 

Part of the legacy of the Rebound program, said Miller and others, is to demonstrate how the district can begin to address the achievement gap more effectively. 

“We have a group of students who come to Berkeley High whose needs cannot be met by the structure of the present school,” said Berkeley School Board President Terry Doran after the ceremony Friday. “It takes extraordinary means. So our challenge is, where do we find the means to duplicate this program.”  

While almost everyone can agree that smaller class size is critical to helping students bridge the gap, Doran said, California school districts simply don’t have enough funding to make this a reality. 

Even for those students who participated in Rebound – only a fraction of the freshman who failed one or more classes this past year – it may not be enough, said Scott-George. The reasons for the achievement gap, from economic inequality to institutional racism, are “very complex,” she said. 

“It’s much bigger than Berkeley High School. They’re still swimming against a tide that’s very powerful.” 

Some said they look to the Rebound students themselves to begin to “change the culture” at Berkeley High, by succeeding against the odds and showing next year’s freshman the way. 

With new study skills, strong friendships, and a shared vision of success, Rebound students said Friday they were ready to meet the challenge.  

“I got her back and she got mine,” said Barrow of her best friend, fellow Rebound student Kandis Session. 

Said Session, “We’re going in there knowing what to do now. We’re not going to mess up. We’re going to college.”