Grand County High School mathematics teacher Ed DeFrancia works with a student during an after school tutoring session. [Photo by Kristin Millis / Moab Sun News]

Grades are improving at the Grand County High School. It may be related to a new tutoring program.

During a presentation made before the Grand County Board of Education in November, Principal Steve Hren said that in 2012, the high school had a 7.5-percent failure rate at the end of the first trimester. This year that number dropped to 5.74-percent.

Hren said that when students drop below a C-average for a class, they are assigned to after school tutoring.

Ed DeFrancia said that the math department has tutoring available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“We do it three times a week,” he said. “The whole math department opted to do that.”

He said that core math teachers Allison Brown and Ryan Hand will often have ten to twelve regular students in their classes after school. DeFrancia, who teaches honors classes, pre-calculus and calculus, has fewer.

“I get the motivated kids who truly want to understand,” he said. “Some come on a regular basis. It’s really nice to have that individual one on one attention.”

He referred to one calculus student who was struggling with a concept, “then all of a sudden, her eyes lit up. ‘I see it,’ she said.”

He said the success of the program is based on the students’ effort. While teachers will refer students that need additional tutoring, the student needs to show up and participate.

“One kid said, ‘I need to be here,’” DeFrancia said. “We’re trying to give them as many options as we can.”

This emphasis on improving academics is part of a district-wide effort.

The Grand County Board of Education set a goal to enable all Grand County School District students to meet district, state and national educational standards, said Scott Crane, the district’s superintendent.

“The schools then format their school goals to coordinate with the school board’s goal,” Crane said. “So the quick answer is that the tutoring program is part of the schools’ efforts to help students meet the state and district standards.”

After school tutoring isn’t limited to the high school.

It’s being done at the Grand County Middle School and Helen M. Knight Elementary, too, through the BEACON Afterschool program.

“The BEACON program is an outstanding example of providing students with the extra help and support that is needed to help them be academically successful in a 21st century world,” Crane said. “The care and expertise provided by this program is outstanding.”

BEACON is the acronym for Building Essential Assets through Community Outreach and Networking. The program also provides recreational clubs.

Homework assistance is available every day at the Grand County Middle School. It begins immediately after school and goes to 5 p.m.

“Kids can come and go,” said Stephanie Dahlstrom, Grand County’s director for BEACON. “We also have study groups, individual and group tutoring and a ‘power hour’ where students and their parents sign a contract with BEACON and these students are heavily monitored and there is family involvement.”

Dahlstrom said that 158 middle school students that have attended BEACON at least once, but that number includes both academic assistance and clubs.

“It’s hard to dissect that number – as for example, a student could come in for ten minutes, finish an assignment, then go to a club,” Dahlstrom said.

During the 2012-13 school year, BEACON served 194 middle school students. Of that number, 123 received academic assistance.

“There are many students who raise their grades by attending BEACON,” Dahlstrom said.

For students that were failing, yet attended BEACON over 30 days, 38-percent improved in school performance, as measured by grades, homework completion and classroom behavior, she said.

BEACON also provides tutoring at Helen M. Knight Elementary four days each week.

During 2012-2013, 136 elementary students received academic assistance.

“It is after school homework help,” said Helen M. Knight’s principal Taryn Kay. “It’s an opportunity for children to make up incomplete work, or to have one-on-one assistance to master a concept.”

Teachers refer children, but parents can ask to sign up their child, too, she said.

“In a small group, they develop a good relationship with the tutor they are working with and are more apt to try,” said Michelle Onderko, the coordinator for BEACON’s tutoring program at Helen M. Knight Elementary. “As they feel success, and know someone is here who cares about them and wants to do well, they become invested in their own education.”

Eighty-five percent of the children who received homework help increased their language arts and mathematics grades; 89-percent improved in overall performance, according BEACON’s annual report.

“Do I think it helps?” asked Kay. “Absolutely.”

“The quick answer is that the tutoring program is part of the school’s efforts to help students meet the state and district standards.”