There is a simple theory that if you tell kids over and over again they are unlikely to succeed because they come from bad neighborhoods and are growing up in poverty, they will do exactly what society tells them to do, which is fail.
But at Wakefield Elementary, located in one of Turlock’s poorest neighborhoods, teachers and staff are pushing to make a difference in not only the direction of their students’ lives, but their mindset about reaching their goals and being successful, and the positive results are coming.
All Wakefield students enter into kindergarten with the understanding that after high school they will be college-bound, thanks to a program known as the “No Excuses University.”
No Excuses was started three years ago as a way to motivate students to be exceptional students and implement the keys needed to see college as a viable option for the future. The program relies on six keys to success. The first and foremost key to the program is “universal achievement.”
“That is the most important; it says that every kid can learn. If you don’t believe that then the rest can’t work,” explained Chris Alonzo, a sixth-grade teacher at Wakefield.
The following keys include collaboration amongst teachers, standards alignment with the school district’s core curriculum, assessment, data analysis and intervention.
“The kids take the test; we evaluate the data to find out what we can do to help the kids realize that college is an attainable goal. We try to break down that goal into smaller chunks like what they have to learn in order to graduate junior high and then high school,” said Alonzo.
Students learn that hard work, perseverance, stamina and responsibility all come into play in order to reach college.
The visual cues of change adorn nearly every room on campus. Rooms are decked out with college pennants, posters, banners and apparel. Each class celebrates a particular college, often the alma mater of the teacher. On Mondays students wear “No Excuses” T-shirts and on Wednesdays they wear their classroom’s college t-shirts with the year of their expected graduation stamped on the back.
“It’s a visual reminder that college is waiting for them. All kids know when they graduate,” said Alonzo.
Students also learn college terminology like scholarship, diploma and the A-G requirements for college admission. Every year a sixth grade class gets the opportunity to visit CSU Stanislaus or UC Merced. Students have also visited UC Berkeley, Stanford and UC Davis.
“A lot of kids are really believing they can go to college. Before kids would forget to bring their homework and they would make excuses but now there are no excuses so everyone just does their homework,” said Evan Sousa, a sixth-grader at Wakefield. Sousa plans to go to culinary school because he wants to be a chef.
“Before, the word ‘college’ was never mentioned here. If the kids are hearing about college at home and they aren’t here, they aren’t going to go to college. But that’s why we started this, to help kids believe they can go to college,” said Tracy Williamson, a fifth grade Wakefield teacher. “I tell my kids that my parents didn’t pay for my college, I got a scholarship and I worked to pay my own way. I tell them it’s not easy but if they study and work hard they can do it.”
In concert with the No Excuses program, Williamson and Alonzo partner to offer students additional class time. One fifth grade class and two sixth grade classes can start school two weeks earlier and receive an additional one-hour of class time four days a week.
The results of the new mentality have begun to bear fruit. Last school year Wakefield had the highest testing jump in the district with a 58-point performance increase over the year before.
Wakefield’s student body is about 90 percent Hispanic and 100 percent of the student body is listed as “socioeconomically disadvantaged.” More than 60 percent of students are English learners.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.