LEAP students tackle literacy gaps in surrounding towns
Through the Leaders Educated and Prepared program, Izzy Lee, a recent Darien High School graduate, and junior Sam Stine were able to create and implement a project over the last year to tackle the literacy gap in surrounding towns.
"We looked at the different books that the surrounding towns were reading and the grade levels they were reading them in," Lee said. The group, which consisted of Lee, Stine and seven others, examined the reading curriculums in Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk and Stamford.
"What we found was that Darien and New Canaan were reading books in seventh grade that Norwalk and Stamford were reading in 10th grade."
LEAP is a program based in Darien. It started in 2010 and is made up of a series of workshops for students from Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk and Stamford that teaches them to develop their leadership skills while working with others to achieve common goals.
The project that Lee took on, Back-on-Track tutoring program, was done in collaboration with the Norwalk Grassroots Tennis program, which offers after-school tennis as well as tutoring. Eight National Honor Society students worked individually in peer-to-peer tutoring sessions with eight Norwalk Grassroots Tennis students.
The tutoring program had four goals: To reduce the achievement gap; to improve reading and writing skills; to empower every student to see themselves as part of the solution rather than a victim of circumstance; and to encourage each student who received tutoring to help someone else who is in need of support.
Lee and the team were tasked with creating a curriculum.
"It was really difficult to start from nothing," Lee said. "We had this vision, from working with a kid from Norwalk, to be able to give them the education that they deserved but that they had no control over. We wanted to take this program and fill the education gap that they felt."
It wasn't until a student from Norwalk identified the education gap and made others in LEAP aware of it that Lee knew one existed.
"It was a total culture shock," said Lee, who has played tennis in Norwalk and has spent time in Stamford. "Even though we share the same borders, the education is so different."
In order to create the curriculum that would be taught after school on Thursdays and Fridays, Lee and the other students used diagnostic tests from CMTs, SATs and PSATs to get a feel for where the educational discrepancies in Norwalk and Stamford were. What they found was that their peers from neighboring towns were behind in reading and writing.
"We want to see the kids improve their grades, commit to doing their homework and ultimately for the kids to recognize the benefits of education and develop a passion for life-long learning," said Ellen Simmonds, director of administration at NGT.
But the group needed tutors, so they looked to the National Honor Society to see if any of the members would be interested in assisting. They received a good response and moved forward with the program, but not without struggle.
"At first," Lee said, "there was a lot of communication issues because they didn't want to work. We met on Thursday and Friday afternoons and they just wanted to have fun and not work. We tried really hard to get them to work and be motivated. We finally realized what all of their niches were."
Members of LEAP meet once a week to identify ways they can give back to the community and instill change. They then develop plans and implement those plans to tackle problems they may see.
"Our world needs leaders who, like Izzy and Sam, will learn about themselves as leaders, work with next-door communities, and put fear aside and commit to succeed at their vision both here in the U.S. and across the globe," said Lauren Calahan, founder of LEAP.
Lee, who will attend Harvard University in the fall, became involved with LEAP when she was a sophomore at Darien High School. She was looking for more clubs to join and said she knew she wanted a club that allowed her to contribute to the community.
"I fell in love with it," Lee said. "We had such a good group of people. We really have a wide variety of kids who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds."
Regular LEAP meetings will start again in August.