Partnership Program Takes New Approach


Partnership Program Takes New Approach

The weeklong Healthy Hunger Games camp hosted recently by SUNY Cortland for local high school students had little to do with the popular adventure novel trilogy.

But it had everything to do with a long-standing partnership program that aims to reduce the dropout rates in four nearby school districts, while also teaching important life skills such as nutrition.

The Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP), operated through the College’s School of Education, was launched 25 years ago to boost high school graduation rates across New York state. Since 1988, funding has been poured into colleges and universities statewide to create effective programs in local high-needs districts.

Now, during the 2013-14 school year, SUNY Cortland’s program will employ a new approach — one that utilizes staff members known as “achievement specialists” — in the Groton, Lansing, McGraw and Tully school districts locally.

“It’s just another person in the building focused on student achievement,” said Sherry Tacktill, the recently hired program director of LPP at the College, talking about the position.

In the past, each school partner would designate one of its teachers as a coordinator. That person then put together a plan that addressed topics such as afterschool homework help and mentoring, while SUNY Cortland hosted a handful of events throughout the year to bring the schools together.

Under the new model, achievement specialists will be certified teachers who are devoted entirely to LPP and its initiatives throughout the day, whether it’s during a study hall or lunch or after school.

“They would be available throughout the day because they’re not teaching classes,” Tacktill said. “They’ll have a very, very flexible schedule so that they can meet the needs of that particular school.”

So far, two achievement specialists with nearly 20 years of combined classroom teaching experience have been hired. A third position has been opened up. And depending on the year’s financial award for the program, which has not yet been announced, a fourth position could be added.

“Depending on how much money we get, we’ll be serving upwards of 280 students in the local school districts,” Tacktill said, noting that students typically are eligible for the program when they show academic struggles. Disciplinary issues or a family history of drug or alcohol abuse also can warrant participation, she said.

The program, which is expanding to help students in grades 7 to 12 next year, will work with SUNY Cortland’s Institute for Civic Engagement to utilize the talents of undergraduates taking courses with a service-learning component. LPP also will reach out to future teachers through the College’s Field Experience and School Partnerships Office as well as any other student volunteers, regardless of major, Tacktill said.

Most recently, during the Healthy Hunger Games camp, the achievement specialist brought the school-aged students to SUNY Cortland, where they were led by College faculty members associated with the HealthyNow Weight Loss and Healthy Living for Teens program.

They participated in activities such as exer-gaming, which uses video games to promote exercise. They read excerpts from Running for My Life, the 2012 book by local U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong. And they measured the amount of sugar in sodas and the amount of fat in junk foods to physically depict what sometimes enters their bodies.

“During the week, they made changes,” Tacktill said. “One of the big themes is for the students to become agents of change.”

She said the week is a sign of things to come.

“What’s really wonderful is that the schools have really embraced the program,” Tacktill said. “They’ve embraced our achievement specialists as part of their support teams.

“They’ve been in this program a long time, but they really like the new model.”