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Can Blue Engine Fellows bridge the gap between college-eligible and college-ready?

   /   Jul 1st, 2010Education, News

Think back to the toughest class you took in high school.  Would you have performed better with an experienced coach by your side?  And what if that coach had been with you every day, getting to know your strengths and weaknesses, keeping you motivated? Even better, right?

Nick Ehrmann thinks so. A 2010 Echoing Green Fellow and Teach For America veteran, Ehrmann is the founder of Blue Engine, an organization that recruits college graduates to provide personalized academic coaching to students in low-income high schools. His goal is to close the gap between what it means to be college eligible and college ready.

While about 60 percent of low-income students enter college (or some other post-secondary institution), only 11 percent graduate. Students leave for many reasons, including financial strains. But often the problem is that their high schools failed to prepare them for the academic rigors of college.

A former fourth-grade teacher in Washington, D.C., Ehrmann puts this failure down to large class sizes and big differences  in student proficiency. Blue Engine tackles both problems, offering tailored instruction to small groups of students to boost achievement across the board, not just for those who are struggling.

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The inaugural class of twelve Blue Engine Fellows was selected from a pool of 185 recent college grads.  They’ll work together for one year at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in Manhattan, where every member of this fall’s freshman class will receive daily personalized academic acceleration sessions in algebra. As Ehrmann recently told me, these aren’t your average tutoring sessions. Rather than offer “reactive homework help,” Blue Engine Fellows will teach lessons that relate directly to the skills and behaviors needed to succeed in college.

Ehrmann hopes the program will take students’ performance from “good to great.” Students at WHEELS average a score of 68 on the statewide algebra readiness exam—better than most public schools in New York City, but well shy of 75, the minimum score needed to avoid remedial coursework at the City University of New York. That’s why Ehrmann says the school is a perfect example of “a place where the distance between college eligible and college ready” is still big–but not too big to overcome with the right kind of guidance.

Photo: Lisa Weston

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