JL Simpson Middle School
Launched in late 2015 as a pilot program funded by H4OC, the Squad program provided challenge and support to approximately 30 focus students in 7th grade. These students faced various economic and social challenges. Additionally, the overwhelming majority of them had failed the state test in reading skill during the previous academic year. Students came together during weekly lunch meetings throughout the school year and additional after school review sessions during the spring. At the end of the year, only one Squad student failed the reading test. The quantitative results were so impressive that J. L. Simpson is looking to build upon the program and model remediation efforts on all grade levels on the Squad program. The program succeeded last year because it focused on the whole child. The students were challenged to a high standard for behavior and leadership, and they rose to the challenge. For 2016-2017, we aim to build upon this cornerstone of the program by adding two specific elements to encourage excellence for our students: 1. Exposure to a cultural activity (A trip to see a performance at the Kennedy Center related to the 7th grade curriculum); and 2. Dress for success days during which students would wear business attire to school. In order to implement these two new pieces, we will need financial support. (A successful businessman or two who might want to volunteer some time to help with shirt sizes and tying ties would be pretty wonderful too!)
It is not an overstatement to say that several of the students’ lives were changed by their experience in Squad. Perhaps my personal favorite is a girl, “Maria”, who could barely even speak during the first weeks of school. She cried during English class on the third day of school because she felt so overwhelmed and behind. She had never passed a single state reading test and all indications were that she was far below grade level in reading skill and her social and emotional well being was suffering. Over the course of the year, she blossomed. He confidence was obvious in all of her classes. Her history teacher inquired about her improvement, and she told him it was because of Squad, ‘A place where we go during lunch, get help, and make friends. It’s a leadership group!’ The teacher was impressed because she never described the program as “remedial” and she was proud to be part of the group. That was precisely our goal all along. She wore her Squad t-shirt on test day, passed with flying colors, and cried tears of joy on her way to 8th grade. I’ve seen her in the hallway during the first weeks of this school year, and she is a laughing, confident young lady now. I’m so very proud of her and the others like her who made such incredible strides last year.