One way to bridge achievement gap

March 27, 2012

It’s long been understood in education that there’s a gap in achievement.

For the last 50 years, test scores between high-income and low-income children has grown by about 40 percent, according to a study published last year by Sean Reardon, associate professor of education at Stanford University. That gap is nearly twice the size of the achievement gap by student ethnicity, Reardon found.

Today, education leaders will gather for a special event held at Woodside High School for “Bridging the Gap: Can Technology Successfully Assist Our Schools in Closing the Achievement Gap?” from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The free interactive conversation, open to the public, will discuss the problem, uses for technology and programs trying to help those stuck in the gap.

Charles Schmuck, founder of the Peninsula College Fund, said the problem persists despite significant effort by local officials.

“What else do we need to do to fill that gap?” he asked.

The Peninsula College Fund, he said, tries to help. Started in 2006, it focuses on helping students whose overall GPA fell between 3.2 to 3.8.

Schmuck learned students from low-income areas with GPAs higher than 3.8 were often given opportunities from schools that wanted to increase their diversity. Students with good grades, but not that high, however, weren’t given the same support.

The group started by offering three students a four-year, $3,000 annual scholarship. Today, the group supports students from Redwood City, East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. The request for scholarships, however, has increased to 65 students, many of them warranted.

The $12,000 scholarship paid over four years is a draw for students, but those awarded the scholarship also pointed to the emotional support and internship placement as one of the most helpful things the group offers.

Twenty-two-year-old Luis Pimentel, an ’07 Menlo-Atherton High School graduate, is currently studying chemistry at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Being chosen as a recipient for the Peninsula College Fund was a big deal for Pimentel who has two sisters and wanted to help cover the costs for his parents. Pimentel also found the group’s guidance helpful. While his parents are both supportive of education, neither went to college and therefore aren’t always able to answer his questions. In addition, Pimentel has enjoyed PCF’s offering of annual workshops. He found particularly helpful one held before he left for college which covered what to expect and tips for finding ways to fit in.

Tania Garcia, a 2009 Sequoia High School graduate and junior at the University of California at Berkeley, has, of course, benefited from the money. However, she’s been really thankful for the support.

“It’s not just giving you money,” she said about how PCF differs from other scholarships.

When she has questions about anything she has people to whom to turn. Garcia was also able to call on PCF to help get a scholarship placement over the summer. Her mentor and even Schmuck check in with Garcia to see how things are going.

“I feel like there are a lot of people backing me,” she said.