Johnella George, like many of her classmates
at Andrew Jackson High School, seemed destined for failure.
To graduate, Johnella and her classmates have to pass first-year
But they entered the Northside school last fall with no
background in a subject that causes many students' brains to go on
Moreover, a high percentage had scored 22 points below the
national average in math on a standardized basic skills test, said
Jackson principal Jack Shanklin.
It wasn't a formula for success, and it had Jackson's
So they targeted about 250 students who were at risk of dropping
out of school because of attendance problems, poor test scores and
being overage. Then they set up a tutoring program with the help of
modern technology - the computer.
Algebra on the computer?
You bet. The students spend 90 minutes one day in a traditional
algebra class and 90 minutes the next day in computer labs.
The program, known as graduation enhancement, is showing such
potential that it was cited by the SchoolMatch site team, which
visited various Duval County public schools in May, as the type
needed to get low-achieving students back on track.
If need be, the students go back to an elementary math level -
fractions, decimals and so forth - to build up their skills, said
Jeff Corwin, one of three lab teachers.
Lab and algebra teachers work closely together so that lab work
mirrors classroom work.
''What they get in the lab reinforces what they get in the
classroom,'' said algebra teacher Doug Wheeler. ''We've slowed the
That means students have two days to grasp an algebraic concept
before a new one is introduced and two days to do their homework.
For these students, going from basic math to algebra with no
preparation is a big jump, school officials said.
George, for one, recalled how baffled she was when first
introduced to algebra. The 15-year-old said she wondered why letters
such as X and Y were being used in a subject dealing with numbers.
They might as well have been Mandarin Chinese to her.
''Once I caught on, it got easier,'' said George, who came to
Jackson from Matthew Gilbert Middle School. ''Last year, I didn't
like math. Now I've got this computer class, and the teachers are
helping me and I like math better.''
On a recent morning, George was sitting in front of her computer
working on a mileage chart problem. Positive numbers denoted
easterly direction and negative, westerly. She had four choices.
When she made her selection, the computer signaled whether she had
chosen the correct answer. An incorrect one meant she had to figure
out what she was doing wrong.
But her grades reflect the fact she's increasingly making the
right choice. She made D's and F's in math at Gilbert. This year,
her grades have been mainly B's and C's.
Indeed, she's now eager to explain the role of X and Y in
Last year, Duval County tightened its academic standards,
requiring George's class, the Class of 2000, to pass first-year
algebra and geometry to graduate. In the past, students had only to
pass lower-level courses such as consumer math.
Jackson is on block scheduling, a system that transforms a school
day from seven 50-minute classes to four 90-minute sessions. That
enables an entire course to be taught each semester giving students
the opportunity to earn eight credits in an academic year rather
than seven under traditional scheduling.
Thus, at-risk students are in the program for 36 weeks, earning
both a math credit and an elective computer credit. The regular
algebra class lasts 18 weeks with no computer lab.
''Usually we let students fail and then try to help them,''
Wheeler said. ''Now we're trying to help them before they fail. I
really feel that only 10 to 15 percent of these kids would have
passed if thrown into a regular classroom situation.''
Next year, the majority will take liberal arts math, which will
reinforce what they learned in first-year algebra and introduce them
While too early to gauge its success, there are several factors
that indicate the program is working, school officials said. Their
grades improved as their lessons got harder, Wheeler said. For
instance, during the fourth nine weeks, some of his students with
C's, D's and F's at the beginning of the year were making A's.
He estimated that half the class will pass. Still the program is
not a panacea. Absenteeism remains a major problem.
''Our failures in the program are because kids are missing too
many days,'' Wheeler said. ''I would say that only 10 to 15 are
really trying and failing because they don't understand it.''
There are other benefits to the program as well, Shanklin said.
Because math requires reading, it's helping to build their reading
level and it's exposing them to computers, he said.
Moreover, it's playing a secondary role of helping get them
prepared for the all-important high school competency test, which
they will take for the first time as juniors. They also must pass
that test to graduate.
''We're trying to develop their skills in their first two years
of high school,'' Shanklin said. ''Once we get them through these
hurdles, we know they'll be well on their way to graduating.''