After more than a year of preparation, Frank Wagner Elementary has been officially accepted as a No Excuses University school. No Excuses University (NEU) is a network of elementary, middle, and junior high schools across the United States that actively promotes college readiness to all students.
It all started when Frank Wagner Principal Robin Fitch and three staff members attended a “TurnAround School” conference during the summer of 2011. Inspired by stories of how high-poverty schools like Frank Wagner had changed, Fitch and her staff began work to change the culture of their school.
“We know the way out of poverty is through education,” says Fitch. “We need to help our students so they understand that what they learn now gives them a chance for a better life.”
They used ideas from TurnAround Schools, founded by Damen Lopez, which are based on two principles: that every child has the right to be prepared to attend college; and that It is the responsibility of adults in the school to develop systems that make that dream a reality.
Fitch and her staff are working to create a college-bound culture at Frank Wagner in which students plan to continue their education after high school and set career goals. Teachers have decorated their classrooms with pennants and other items from either a college or university they attended or one they feel attached to for other reasons. Once each week students and staff wear their special NEU T-shirts marked with their high school graduation date.
“We start as soon as kindergarten talking about advisors and dormitories and mascots,” said Fitch. “Those are words we know, but for kids with no one in their families in college, those words are rare. If kids don’t start thinking about college as elementary students, by the time they get to 11th grade, it’s too late. They aren’t ready.”
The major benefit of being named an NEU school is access to professional development. Staff can now access all of their blogs and teaching tools. Frank Wagner can incorporate their logo into its school.
Parents, too, can learn at NEU Frank Wagner.
“We have Parent University, where parents will be able to come to classes on how to help your kid read and write, and on supporting reading for older children,” said Fitch.
Currently school leaders and the school’s PTA are looking for sponsors to finance the purchase of motivational banners to be installed around the school as inspiration for students to work hard toward a better future.
“Anything we can do as a school in poverty that promotes higher education for our children, that is what we want,” said Fitch.
For details, interested individuals or businesses may contact the school’s counselor, Elsa Trabanino, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 804-3200.