Morning Boost: A Brainy "Cup of Coffee"

When Urban Promise Academy teachers began exploring the idea of a before-school academic intervention program, motivating a group of teens before the first bell seemed a tall order. But when Nicole Knight and the district’s English Language Development coach Lubia Sanchez brought their Morning Boost idea to the school’s
leadership team, “There was a lot of initial buy-in,” says Knight. “We were all excited about having a space to work with some of our highest-needs students.”

They chose morning with the belief that kids would be fresher then, and wouldn’t need to sacrifice popular after-school enrichment activities. Targeting intermediate-level English- language learners and the lowest achievers in Math, staff was mindful of avoiding an environment that felt “stigmatizing or punitive.We wanted to build in incentives and make it a fun and positive experience,” says Knight.Teachers bring in hot chocolate for the students, and parents host monthly awards “feasts” complete with pancakes, eggs, fresh pastries, tamales, and more.

“My favorite thing about Morning Boost is to come here and get work done with my friends,” reflects 7th-grader Roci. “We do work but have fun at the same time. Boost is a good opportunity to study more and get your grades up.”

Daytime teachers work with their own students, establishing a continuity that is often missing from beforeand after- school support programs. While the original target group was English Language Learners (ELLs), Boost also added a Math component, headed up by Geometry teacher and math coach Abby Paske. Groups are kept small, with 10 students at the most.“We gear lessons to take advantage of the small group setting,” says Knight. “When you go into the Boost classrooms, you see the tables pushed together in a small circle. It feels like a small community.”

Staff feels this unique and comfortable setting has translated into more participation and improved achievement in daytime classes. “Morning Boost gives me more confidence because we get to be in a small group,” explains 6th-grader Jose.“It helped me practice giving a presentation so I’m more confident talking in front of the whole class.”

“We wanted them to have the experience of going into class knowing more than their colleagues, as opposed to feeling like they always have to catch up,” says Knight. “Instead, they can be the leaders.” Based on English assessment tests, the impact has been dramatic: Boost participant scores jumped nearly 20 percent, and Math results reflected similar leaps.

When students show consistent improvement, they “graduate” from Boost, but some have trouble kicking the habit. “I still go to Boost because I hear my friends talking about how the teacher is helping them on things they need,” explains 7th-grader Janel.“So when I need help, I go, too.”

“After Morning Boost, kids are ready to soar [during daytime classes],” says Principal Mark Triplett. “The program is like their cup of coffee. It’s a really innovative idea and we’ve had such commitment from teachers, kids, and families. It’s been a huge success.” As one student wrote on an end-of-year survey,“What I like about Morning Boost is, well, everything!”