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Study Finds Social-Skills Teaching Boosts Academics

February 04, 2011 by Sarah D. Sparks

An analysis of more than 200 studies finds that classroom programs that focus on social and emotional skills can yield learning improvements that rival those of purely academic programs. Click here to read full article.

180 Degrees Program makes Headlines

April 26, 2010

Read the Mercury News article below about the program's success.

As an eighth-grader at Ocala Middle School, Nancy Campos constantly ditched class, yelled at teachers when she did show up and spent a majority of her time in the principal's office.

Now a sophomore at Mount Pleasant High, Nancy has an A average, near perfect attendance and dreams of attending Stanford University.

She is one of about 45 students at the East San Jose high school who have transformed from apathetic teens to motivated students with aspirations that go beyond a high school diploma. The teens credit their newfound success to a program tailored to students at risk of failing academically and to the dedicated Mount Pleasant teacher who piloted the project.

The Opportunity Program, which began at Mount Pleasant in the 2008-09 academic year, provides a comprehensive curriculum for freshmen and sophomores, including community service, family participation, academic support and self-esteem and life-building skills. The program was such a success — grades and attendance greatly improved — that the East Side Union High School District incorporated the curriculum to serve about 230 students in 11 of its 12 schools.

"We have created a warm, loving, supportive community to assist kids in doing well in school," said Jeneva Westendorf, the teacher who was hired to implement the program at Mount Pleasant. "I feel very strongly that when kids are loved and cared for, they will do well in school."

Nancy, whose report card is now filled with A's and B's, said: "I know what I have to do and I know I have the potential to do it."

Every student who participates in the program had a history of failing academically, often because of issues they were dealing with outside the classroom, according to Jennifer Klassen, a social worker and program liaison for the district.

The Mount Pleasant students spoke openly about their previous struggles in school, including poor behavior and bad choices, and explained how Westendorf and the Opportunity Program helped them succeed.

Before entering Mount Pleasant, Andrew Marron, Gerardo Plascencia, both 15, and Eloy Jimenez, 14, treated school like a needless chore and made little to no effort in the classroom. Gerardo described himself as a troublemaker; Andrew said he would get into fights and earn school suspensions.

All three teens said their eighth-grade report cards were filled with D's and F's.

"I just had that thought that school didn't really matter," Eloy said. "I can go without school in my life."

Once the boys began buying into the program, their grades improved (they no longer have D's or F's). They said Westendorf, who is called "Mrs. Wes" by all her students, keeps on them by doing grade checks and helping them stay on track.

Now Eloy talks of attending Santa Clara University; Gerardo wants to earn a master's degree in civil engineering. Andrew, a two-sport athlete, dreams of playing football for Stanford. He is also working to earn a 3.0 GPA.

"My grades are the opposite of eighth-grade year; that's because she is someone I can go to for help," Eloy said. "My whole thought of school turned around."

Sophomore Janet Gonzalez, 16, described herself as a slacker in middle school who often got kicked out of class for fooling around. As a freshman, she received an award after earning a 3.0 grade-point average.

"I had never gotten an award before," Gonzales said. "My parents were very proud of me. It was a great feeling."

The Mount Pleasant students volunteer every Thursday at neighboring Robert Sanders Elementary School, where they work in the library, computer lab, office, preschool and classrooms. The teens take their jobs seriously and especially enjoy playing with the younger students.

"It's really cool because you get to interact in a little kid's life," Nancy said. "I never had someone like that."

Robert Sanders Principal Laurie Aknin said her teachers and staff members welcome the extra help. And the young kids "love having" the older students around, adding that teens "really rise to the occasion. They're good role models."

Students in the program receive elective class credit; at Mount Pleasant, freshmen take the class for two periods and sophomores for one. Westendorf uses a curriculum called 180 Degrees that focuses on character building and life-skills education. Guest speakers are also a piece of the class.

Westendorf spends money on food for students and utilizes numerous community connections to organize field trips that her students otherwise would never get a chance to do, such as enjoying an airplane ride over the valley and along the coast. She also dedicates a personal cell phone solely for her students to reach her day or night.

"She tells us we can do anything we want; to not let anybody put us down," said junior Elizabeth Larios, 16. "She makes us feel special."

Last fall, the program was implemented at every high school in the district except Santa Teresa, which could not find the right teacher for the job, Klassen said. "The teacher has to be special," Klassen said.

A recent report indicated that grades and attendance improved significantly at every school and the number of behavior incidents was down.

"They are more engaged, they are thinking about what is beyond" high school, Klassen said. "More students have created goals for themselves; that was a huge improvement from what they had coming into the class."

Westendorf also created an after-school leadership program for her students. She closely monitors their grades and attendance, and will do so until graduation. She accompanies students to fill out job applications and opens up her classroom as an after-school study hall.

"The success of the program has so much to do with the person who is leading," said Marquez, adding that Westendorf gets it. "That woman has given her all to this program. "... When the kids see a teacher is making an investment in them, you are going to get a return in that investment."

Foundation Logo Contest

At midnight February 25th, the 180 Degrees Foundation Logo Contest officially opened! The contest is open to all 180 Degrees students that are in the program this semester.

The purpose of the contest is to design a new logo for the 180 Degrees Foundation that is reflective of our mission and purpose. In addition to the logo design, contestants will write a brief statement of their vision as to what it means to "help youth navigate life one degree at a time.

All entries are due April 30th. A panel of judges selected by the Foundation Board will select the top 3 winners and award prizes. The top prize is a new Apple iPod Nano!

The Foundation wishes the best of luck to all contestants!

The program 180 degrees has helped me in many ways. One way it has helped me is in learning how to take my obstacles and turn them into opportunities, also, how to set goals for myself and how to accomplish them. They also have taught me how I can help my community and every one that surrounds me. They have showed me self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship, awareness, responsible decision making. It has also taught me how to see and understand my perspective and other's. It has taught me how to establish and maintain positive choices. I also have learned how to make something out of my life. I have been attending a lot more school and have been getting better grades. —Leslie

Copyright © 2010 180° Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.