Helping inner city students ‘ACCESS’ success

BY ELIZABETH SLONIM MACANUFO, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Josh Goldman’s love of learning led him to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in philosophy and theology from St. Louis University, his Master’s of Education from the Peabody School of Education at Vanderbilt University and his Master’s of Social Work from the George Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

His passion for inner city development led him to turn the theories he developed in school into practical realities.

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As program director for ACCESS Academies Reading Program, he strives to ensure that children in the city’s urban core have educational opportunities.

The strong interest in learning and community service stems from Goldman’s childhood. His family provided an intellectually stimulating environment and his synagogue introduced service work. As early as age 12, Goldman volunteered in impoverished neighborhoods through Central Reform Synagogue. “Those images have stayed with me,” he reflects. He kept these experiences close to his heart while at the George Brown School of Social Work, where he honed his vision for a progressive educational program.

While pursuing his MSW, he studied the achievement gap between African American children and grade level norms. Through research and personal interviews, Goldman reflected on how to address this issue within schools and families. Concentrating on what he describes as the fourth grade slump, he realized that at this grade level white students accelerate, whereas African Americans decelerate. “I wanted to institute an intervention,” he declares.

Goldman’s opportunity arose while interning with Urban Strategies, an organization aimed at revitalizing urban communities. He started his reading-focused pilot program at Adams Elementary School in the summer of 2004. Given access to one classroom, he had authority over the curriculum. “I created a new administrative structure,” he describes. Each child participant had the attention of a lead teacher and a reading specialist. Says Goldman, “we expected great academic results from the social relationships created between the teachers and the students.”

The experiment continued for the next two years, and by 2006 Goldman created what he deemed a “quality program.” Over 1,000 books were given to the children and test scores continued rising. Goldman also instituted a parent engagement component. He explains, “I wanted the parents to celebrate the positives about their kids. Hopefully the pride will lead to more good stuff at home.”

By the time he graduated from social work school in 2006, Goldman felt he was onto something with his program, and wanted to continue his efforts. Joining ACCESS Academies allowed him to continue pursuing his dream. Founded in 2005, ACCESS Academies applies the NativityMiguel model to the education of middle school students from low income neighborhoods. While ACCESS Academies are integrated into four St. Louis area middle schools, Goldman still concentrates on fourth and fifth graders.

“Our strategy is to work with the fourth and fifth graders to boost their reading so that they’re ready for the ACCESS program by middle school,” says Goldman. Throughout the school year, he supervises sites which offer intensive reading curriculums. The goal, he says, is to inspire a love of reading in each of the students. His approach works. Stellar students in the program have transformed their grades from Ds to Bs, and have climbed two grade levels in reading ability.

This summer Goldman instituted a new aspect of “Succeeding with Reading,” a summer enrichment program. Aimed at disadvantaged children in St Louis’ urban core, more than 30 students participated in the six-week, day-long course. In addition to reading, students received instruction in math, physical education and cultural arts. The camp concluded with a musical based on one of the students’ favorite books. The music and lyrics were created by the students. To add to the excitement of the event, Mike Bush and KSDK Channel 5 recently featured “Succeeding with Reading” and the play.

Starting this fall, Goldman will manage three after-school sites, as well as seven Saturday sites, serving 90 children. He’s looking forward to encouraging kids to learn in a joyful way. Beyond the immediate future, he contemplates starting his own independent school. His vision includes a neighborhood school that, in addition to teaching children, will offer adult education classes for parents and will house a doctor, dentist and social worker on site. “I think this type of school could serve as a cornerstone for neighborhood revitalization,” he says. “It would serve as a model for neighborhoods around the country with the intent to reduce poverty.”

In the meantime, learning is still an important part of Goldman’s life. Focusing on the African-American experience and how poverty has occurred in urban cities, he hopes this information brings him even closer to his ultimate goal of providing educational possibilities to everyone.