In the fall of the 2012-13 school year, Fort Worth’s O.D. Wyatt High had 220 seniors, but only 86 were on track to graduate.
Many of the students had not been taking the right prerequisite courses, partly because the school didn’t have enough counselors to advise them. Others had too many absences due in part to family issues.
That fall was also the year the Morningside Children’s Partnership, funded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, began working with the school, infusing it with added dollars to pay for reading and program specialists, as well as a social worker.
The MCP is a community advocacy program involved in six Fort Worth schools on the southeast side and is having an impact on students from “cradle to career,” as primary advocate Walter Rainwater says.
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Through its partnership with residents, businesses, city leaders, and area nonprofit and faith-based organizations, it is changing lives and changing futures for a generation of young people from low-income families.
At O.D. Wyatt that first year, the specialists went into overdrive to get kids back on track through programs after school, on Saturdays and even over spring break.
When graduation came, 210 seniors received their diplomas.
This year about 230 students will graduate, pending latest test results, said Principal Lewis Washington, who quickly noted that 286 juniors are on the path to graduation next year.
That is a stark contrast to what it was like when Washington arrived four years ago.
He said 130 kids had been back-graded, meaning they were behind their grade level by a year or more, a trend that had been going on for at least seven years.
Another major problem was that 125 kids each year were being expelled from the regular school. This year there were four.
Washington praises MCP and Rainwater for that transformation, pointing out that when testing showed 86 percent of freshmen and sophomores were reading below grade level, Rainwater committed to provide more help.
For the 2015-16 school year, the foundation has budgeted $400,000 for Wyatt, which includes three reading specialists, three program specialists and a social worker.
Washington said when he was asked what he needed to help his students and teachers, he asked for personnel who could act as liaisons with students and parents, and between students and teachers.
Part of that meant solving some problems at home.
For example, at the home of one student who had been acting out, the social worker found two elderly grandparents who couldn’t afford to pay electric and gas bills.
There also were two middle school students who were not enrolled after two weeks of classes because the family didn’t have money to buy clothes.
The partnership, with help from an anonymous donor, took care of those needs, Washington said.
At a time when the state Legislature continues to balk at adequately funding public schools, Fort Worth has a private foundation pouring millions annually into six schools: Carroll Peak, Morningside, Briscoe and Van Zandt Guinn elementaries, Morningside Middle and Wyatt.
The partnership will spend about $700,000 on 11 personnel positions at Morningside Middle next year.
And at a time when our political leaders are fussing over funding pre-kindergarten, the MCP has created a pre-k program to teach 3-year-olds.
The retired Rainwater is a story unto himself. With an engineering degree and a master’s in physics, he decided in 2008 that he wanted to teach inner-city kids.
After getting his alternative teaching certificate, he applied to teach. Nine principals rejected him.
Finally, in 2009, Andrew Chambers of Morningside Middle School called and said he needed help to tutor sixth-graders in math.
Rainwater jumped at it, working with 50 youngsters that year. Chambers is now director of MCP.
Rainwater wanted to teach full-time the next year, but his brother, Richard, became ill, and he started working with the foundation.
What he’s done since is nothing short of a miracle.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.