Achieving Academic Success, One Step at a Time

Ericka Portela lights up when she talks about the girls in her middle and high school SNEAKERS groups. She is a Crittenton Program Facilitator, working with both English and Spanish-speaking girls in Montgomery County. One of the ways in which Crittenton serves girls in the DC Metro area is by helping them to improve their academic performance – an achievement that can be frustratingly elusive at times. But, Ericka has a method – focusing on short-term goals to create a foundation for academic success.

UntitledEricka with Crittenton girls at E. Brooke Lee Middle SchoolEricka tailors her approach to meet the varying needs of her group of girls. “Many of the Spanish-speaking girls are recent arrivals, dealing with so many issues: culture shock, the language barrier, and economic obstacles.” Ericka shares that many of these girls feel the pressure to bring in money for their families, now. She shares with her girls that while making as much money as possible now seems like a good idea, their academic achievements will build on each other and always have greater value long-term.

“No one can take your education away from you,” Ericka tells the girls, “Take advantage of this time, these opportunities. Don’t skip class. Pay attention. Take notes.” Ericka emphasizes the importance of English as a valuable skill, telling the girls to engage in all of their classes. “I tell them to keep coming to class. Keep learning. The grades will come.” She helps her girls see that a small accomplishment – like coming to class – is incredibly important for future academic achievements. If a girl comes to class, she takes notes. If she takes notes, she’ll be more engaged, perform well on tests, earn good grades, and might even win a scholarship for college.  

Working in Washington, DC, Crittenton Program Facilitator Sharyn Dougherty encourages her middle school groups to stay focused on the importance of school, despite the tough transition from middle school to high school. When Sharyn discusses the girls in her groups, she often laughs appreciatively, admiring the spirit of her girls.

“Middle schoolers are very optimistic about their futures – I hear girls say all the time that they want to be doctors or lawyers. They are very specific. One even said that they wanted to be a mortician!” Sharyn recalls. But summers, especially the summer of transition between middle school and high school, is often transformative – and not always in a positive way.5af1e4fa 3fce 4d56 b8a1 a246c8229074Sharyn and Crittenton girls from Wheatley Education Campus pose with astronaut Yvonne Cagle.

Crittenton’s 8th grade SNEAKERS groups help bridge the emotional and academic gap between middle school and high school in a variety of ways. Many of the girls who did well in middle school, simply by going to class, struggle with more rigorous high school courses. While the girls have all of the intelligence needed to excel, they must be encouraged to apply themselves, and to dedicate more time to academics. “Girls don’t always have the study skills to excel in high school,” says Sharyn. “But I tell them that they should always prioritize their academics. If they need to get extra help with schoolwork or to prepare for a test, I encourage them to work with a tutor during lunch, even if it means missing SNEAKERS.” Like Ericka, Sharyn breaks down her girls’ larger, loftier career and college goals into actionable steps that they can accomplish throughout the school year. She does an academic check-in each quarter, but also tries to expose the girls to opportunities and events, such as events at the White House or Crittenton’s Leadership Academy, to promote their personal growth. “You learn from seeing and doing,” Sharyn says. “I can sit and talk to them about anything, but experiencing things for themselves makes a huge difference.”

Crittenton program facilitators like Sharyn and Ericka help their girls with both short and long-term academic goals by helping them build confidence in themselves, stay on track in school, and see how each step forward matters. With a 100% graduation rate each year, their steadfast support for our teens is producing powerful results.