The challenge facing Brewster Elementary School seven years ago seemed apparent–we needed to create an improved learning environment. However, that would not be easy when, from all appearances, the future of Brewster Elementary was looking rather bleak.

Brewster Elementary in Brewster, Wash., enrolls approximately 500 students in kindergarten through grade six. About 97 percent of Brewster students receive free or reduced-price lunches. The rural school, in north central Washington, is part of the Brewster School District 111 public school system. The district consists of two schools, one elementary school and one junior/senior high school, serving slightly more than 1,000 students.

Many of the town’s inhabitants are migrant workers, leading to a stunning 70 percent transient student population. Reading test scores for students across all grades levels were plummeting; in some cases, students were reading one to three grade levels below average. Not long after that, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law was enacted, which placed new academic performance accountability pressures on school officials nationwide.

Given that academic standards were on the rise and school demographics were always shifting, we decided we needed some sort of supplemental education support for our ever-present and growing at-risk student base.

We searched for a solution that would involve our teaching staff, as well as the community at large. School officials began by independently reviewing and researching solutions that offered mentoring and intervention programs.

It was through this comprehensive research that we discovered the HOSTS Learning System. This introduction to HOSTS Learning’s Mentoring and Intervention Solution would prove to be a turning point for the school, the students, and the residents of Brewster.

HOSTS Learning appeared to be our salvation. It’s as if the solution were designed with us in mind. It supported the concept of raising academic achievement with one-on-one mentoring using teachers, parents, and other adults. We couldn’t wait to get started.

Implementation

To create the improved learning environment we were committed to delivering to our struggling elementary students, we used Title I funding to purchase the HOSTS Learning solution. Following that, the HOSTS Learning coordinator and I undertook a comprehensive evaluation of the school’s current educational programs and existing assessment data.

The next step was to use the HOSTS Learning system to tie the state and local formative assessment data to the school’s existing curriculum and instructional resources to create individual learning paths for each student, for both the classroom teachers and community mentors. These individual learning plans would be used as their guide in helping each student to excel.

Finally, we solicited volunteers from the community to implement the structured reading intervention program. The program, with both online and paper-based materials, supported vocabulary building, expansion of word analysis skills, comprehension, writing, and critical thinking skills.

Today, nearly 120 residents out of a population nearing 2,500 mentor about 60 students, mostly in the third and fourth grades.

Brewster administrators used a two-prong implementation strategy with the school’s mentoring program. First, they had classroom teachers develop an intense, one-on-one learning relationship with their students, followed by a pairing with a community-based mentor. This collaborative integration of teaching and learning services is delivered throughout the day, starting before regular school hours and continuing after school in a dedicated HOSTS Learning room. The results demonstrated immediate improvement across all lessons and activities.

For some students, the time spent with their mentor is the only time they get one-to-one time with an adult. During this brief period, the students have the undivided attention of someone who truly is concerned about their learning needs, and that confidence is paid forward with renewed interest and self-belief in the classroom.

Additionally, the staff now have a system in place whereby they review individual student progress data every five to six weeks.

We are constantly regrouping and reassessing. That is one of best parts of the HOSTS Learning solution. It is extremely flexible, offering research-based instructional suggestions that can make a huge impact. It is so easy to quickly course correct, adding more challenging work from our own curriculum or other resources for a higher-performing student, while slowing down for a student who isn’t ready to move to the next concept.

Later this year, Brewster Elementary will be one of the first schools to migrate to HOSTS Learning’s new management resource system, called IntelliPath. This next-generation technology will go one step further in tracking assessments to schools’ or districts’ existing curriculum resources (more than 340 publishers are available), with page-specific accuracy, to create more detailed, dynamic learning paths for students and make differentiated instruction easier for teachers and mentors alike.

Results

With more informed, data-driven instruction entrenched schoolwide, the results have been extremely impressive.

In 2003, only 19 percent of Brewster Elementary students met or exceeded math standards. By 2005, nearly 26 percent of the students attained those same standards. And in reading, that same two-year time period saw a jump of a whopping 30 percentage points–from 45 percent to nearly 75 percent of students performing at grade-level standards.

The adequate yearly progress (AYP) tests have shown equally dramatic gains–going from just 25 percent passing to more than 75 percent.

The students are gaining in educational knowledge and interpersonal skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

Education must be focused, defined, and measurable rather than random and accidental. At Brewster Elementary, we have applied these principals using the HOSTS Learning System over the past seven years, and our students have achieved amazing results.

Eric Driessen was raised in Brewster, Washington. After completing his college education and teaching for 12 years, he returned to the city of Brewster and taught in the junior and senior high schools. For the past seven years, Driessen has served as principal at Brewster Elementary.