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Working to Close the Relationship Gap

Today’s blog is adapted from a presentation given by Dan McKeon, Director, TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School

Published: April 17, 2014

Earning trust takes work

At TrekNorth, a big challenge is earning trust with families. Many Native American students have parents or grandparents who are only a generation or two removed from boarding schools—schools in which Native American children were immersed in European-American culture and forced to abandon their own. To build trust, teachers visit incoming students’ homes during the summer to talk to their families about the way education works at the school and what families can do to contribute to their kids’ education. Mr. McKeon has found that parent engagement leads to student engagement. Home visits and continuous family outreach has helped TrekNorth close the relationship gap and the academic achievement gap.

The school has small class sizes, so teachers can develop the kind of strong relationships with students that would be hard to create in larger classes. An innovative outdoor adventure program also helps foster relationships, because teachers who lead adventure trips see sides of kids that they wouldn’t see in the classroom. The kids get to see a different side of the teacher, too.

Vertically aligned curriculum

TrekNorth has three levels of courses: skills (remedial classes), pre-Advanced Placement, and Advanced Placement (AP). As students age, teachers try to make sure they get a rigorous education in at least one subject area. Kids have different strengths; someone who is in a skills-level math class might also be in an AP Social Studies class.

A lot of AP teachers also teach skills courses. Teaching remedial English in the morning and AP Literature in the afternoon helps teachers see the learning and skills gaps between levels of students.

Key strategy: rigorous art classes

McKeon is consistently amazed at how many kids engage in art classes at a higher level than in other subjects. TrekNorth has an AP Art program, and sometimes, students experience their first taste of success in school in art. Teachers try to capitalize on this success and expand it to other subject areas.

Relationship building and vertically aligned curriculum have been TrekNorth’s main strategy for closing the achievement gap for the past 8 years, and during that time their Native American population has risen from 27 percent to 45 percent. Their commitment to every child builds trust in the community.

Above all, McKeon recommends continuously evaluating the relationships between teachers and students, identifying and analyzing gaps, and working to close them.

To learn more about this school, visit the TrekNorth website.