Cardinal Education Scholars offers elite academic consulting services to driven Bay Area middle-school students from lower socio-economic status and otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. By providing demanding and individualized academic skills coaching as well as one-on-one tutoring at no cost to students’ families, Cardinal Education Scholars substantively intervenes in the academic and personal trajectories of its students by lessening the salience of raced and classed achievement gaps in their lives.
Cardinal Education Scholars (CES) is a multiyear, cohort-based program that intervenes in the academic paths of Bay Area middle-school students who, though committed to their studies, face an exceptional number of barriers to success as a result of their families’ modest financial resources and limited cultural and social capital. CES integrates individualized academic mentoring and community building to support and enrich the intellectual and personal development of small cohorts of students each year.
CES is a charitable program that was launched and is run by the Cardinal Education Foundation, a non-profit foundation founded by Allen Koh, the founder and CEO of Cardinal Education, an educational consulting company headquartered in the Bay Area. Cardinal Education specializes in individually-tailored academic coaching, college admissions counseling, and test preparation services for a national and global clientele. Cardinal Education allows the CES program free use of Cardinal Education’s intellectual property, resource and teaching library, and office space. Its staff volunteer their time and expertise to promote the non-profit program’s success. Because of this open structure, CES students receive academic coaching and support of the same caliber as the elite services provided to Cardinal Education’s families.
The CES pilot program was launched in partnership with the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club (MPBGC) in the 2014-15 academic year, and each cohort is made up of between five and eight motivated, diligent, and positively-minded Scholars from supportive families. CES is structured around four regular activities: once-weekly instructional group sessions, Saturday homework sessions, mandatory Friday study halls with parent supervisors, optional daily study halls to ensure that students have access to academic support and mentoring that their families cannot provide, and one-on-one academic coaching. In addition to a minimum of eight hours of mandatory sessions each week, Scholars expect to have a combined schoolwork and CES homework load of three to four hours daily, including on the weekends. The program is intended to be a focal point in the lives of the students and their families, and in order to fulfill this goal and ensure that the students have the support that they need, CES staff are available to students in the evenings and during the weekends. CES is designed to meaningfully supplement both the social and educational opportunities in which the students are already partaking, and its extracurricular offerings, namely field trips, a film series, guest speakers, and reading competitions, all serve that goal.
The CES curriculum is intentionally modeled after a traditional liberal arts education:
- Beginning in the sixth grade, Scholars train in critical and detail-oriented reading, beginning research skills, narrative and academic writing and editing, vocabulary building, public speaking, debate, mathematical logic exercises, and math through pre-algebra. In their first year in CES, Scholars and their families gain experience with application processes when they complete applications for competitive summer programs. Sixth-grade Scholars are expected to learn best practices for study skills, time management, and organization, and they also gain experience asking for help on academic work and communicating comfortably with adults in-person, by e-mail, and on the phone.
- Seventh-grade Scholars continue to develop in the areas outlined above, and they are also introduced to discourse analysis and close reading techniques in both fiction and non-fiction. They complete the pre-algebra curriculum and begin working through high-school algebra. At the end of the year, CES students begin preparing for high-school entrance exams and the private high school admissions process, and Scholars may elect to apply to additional summer programs and/or for supplemental scholarship opportunities. The seventh-grade Scholars also serve as mentors to the younger students as they adjust to the rigor of the program and work through new material.
- In addition to the curricular emphases of the sixth- and seventh-grade years, eighth-grade CES students practice interview skills, visit and apply to private high schools, and progress at least one full year ahead of their school’s math curriculum. CES offers unparalleled support and guidance to Scholars who perform well in the program and would like to apply to private, charter, and/or magnet high schools, for local or remote summer opportunities, and for locally- and nationally-competitive scholarships. As with the seventh-grade Scholars, the eighth-grade Scholars serve as senior mentors to younger students in addition to taking on administrative and teaching assistant responsibilities, such as grading, providing help brainstorming essays, and quizzing junior Scholars on vocabulary study.
Selection of CES students and families is based on a number of criteria, but we are most interested in motivation, a past record of academic discipline and commitment, and demonstrated need. Students who exhibit intellectual curiosity and leadership potential tend to excel in CES, and we have had tremendous success instilling and developing these characteristics when they are still nascent. Scholars must come from families that prioritize their children’s educations, even if they do not have the time or financial resources to seek out supplemental enrichment. CES is demanding and requires involved family members or guardians who believe in pushing their child to achieve their very best. In keeping with the standards of both local and national non-profit educational organizations that work with disadvantaged students, CES holistically considers the following factors when assessing need: parental education level, language(s) spoken at home, family income and receipt of social services (e.g., Section 8, free and reduced lunch, SSI/SSID, etc.), the number of parents or guardians in the home, and race and/or ethnicity. The selection process requires an endorsement from a fifth-grade teacher, guidance counselor, or principal; a review of grades from fifth grade; a student application; a parent/guardian application; and at least one interview. Students and their families must be willing to sign a three-year contract committing to CES, including its standards for attendance, respectful behavior, and academic progress. Currently, CES recruits from students at about one dozen schools, and as of the 2017-18 academic year, its student body is represented at eleven schools.
Cardinal Education Scholars has developed partnerships with the following organizations in order to promote its students’ success:
- The Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club, which provides space for one-on-one, group, and Saturday sessions as well as study halls. They also assist with the cost of some session materials and resources, providing entrée into the local community and area schools, assisting with recruitment efforts, and transporting Scholars to their clubhouse for sessions.
- The Bay Area Youth Agency Consortium (BAYAC) Americorps, a regional branch of a federally-funded, national service program. BAYAC is operated by the Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), and its staff assist in the recruitment of dedicated and qualified educators who serve as academic coaches for the CES students and as administrative support for the growing CES program.
- Daly City’s Garnet J. Robertson Intermediate School, which provides space for one-on-one sessions and shares information about the Scholars’ performance and curricula beginning during the selection process and continuing through students’ graduation from the school.
- San Francisco’s Our Lady of the Visitacion School, which also provides space for one-on-one sessions and shares information about the Scholars’ performance and curricula beginning during the selection process and continuing through students’ graduation from the school.
- Daly City’s John F. Kennedy Elementary School, which advertises, nominates, and provides school records and recommendations for select fifth-grade students.
- San Francisco’s School of the Epiphany, which advertises, nominates, and provides school records and recommendations for select fifth-grade students.
- Daly City’s Fernando Rivera Middle School, which shares information about Scholars’ performance and curricula during their middle-school years.
- Daly City’s Thomas R. Pollicita Middle School, which shares information about Scholars’ performance and curricula during their middle-school years and facilitates transfers of CES recruits to their school in order to ease the transportation demands on parents.
- The Magis Summer Program at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory High School in San Francisco, which recruits from CES for its three-year summer program. Magis functions as a pipeline for disadvantaged students interested in private Catholic high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, and CES is the singular non-school-based organization from which Magis recruits.
Results have been encouraging:
- In the 2014-15 cohort, which is the first one, 86% of students were accepted to their first-choice high school. Some of the schools students were admitted to include:
- Archbishop Riordan High School
- Crystal Springs Uplands School
- Eastside College Preparatory School
- Head-Royce School
- Immaculate Conception Academy
- Junipero Serra High School
- Lick-Wilmerding High School
- Mercy High School (San Francisco)
- Ruth Asawa School of the Arts
- Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School
- Saint Ignatius
- The Bentley School
- The College Preparatory School
- The 2014-15 cohort earned a total of over $1.4 million in merit- and need-based aid for their four years in high school.
- One student won a nationally-competitive scholarship, the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Scholarship, to develop her talent as a musician. This scholarship renews each year and totals roughly $20,000.
- In 2014-15, student GPAs organically increased an average of .41 from the time that they began the program to the end of the year without any explicit attention to school grades or homework.
- In 2014-15, the average student reading level increased by two grade-levels, from below grade-level at the time they entered the program (average letter level of S-T on the Fountas-Pinnell scale, which correlates to approximately fourth- and fifth-grade fluency) to at or above grade-level by the beginning of their seventh-grade year (average letter level of Y-Z on the Fountas-Pinnell scale, which correlates to approximately sixth- and seventh-grade fluency).
- On the middle-school SSAT, a test for private school admissions, students in the 2014-15 cohort increased their scores by an average of 42% on verbal, 46% on reading, and 133% on quantitative reasoning over the course of their first academic year. By the time that they took the high school SSAT, they were competitive for some of the very best schools in the Bay Area.
- In 2014-15, students increased their multiplication skills by an average of 46 questions (0-12 times tables) in 90-second timed quizzes. In 2015-16, they increased by an average of 39 questions, though they started with a higher baseline.
- From the beginning to the end of the sixth-grade years for the first two cohorts, responses to anonymous questionnaires given to both parents and students demonstrated that:
- Parents checked students’ planners and homework much more frequently (an increase from “two or three times weekly” to “nearly every night” or “four or five times weekly”).
- Students went from, on average, “never” or “very rarely” reading non-fiction (outside of school) to reading news articles or non-fiction books at least once (and often three or more) times weekly.
- Students increased from, on average, less than one hour of homework each day to between three and four hours of academic work each day.
- 100% of students “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that CES was helping them to do better in school, and 100% of parents “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that CES was improving their child’s academic performance.
- 100% of students “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they had taken school more seriously since joining CES, and 100% of parents “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that CES had improved their child’s outlook on school and learning.
- 100% of the students who indicated that they were unsure of whether they would attend college after high school (half of the group at the beginning of the year) were more confident in their ability to get into college and felt more informed about college after a year in CES.
- In one year of operation, CES has expanded from recruiting from and working with a single school to recruiting from five schools and boasting student representation at six area schools. In three years, CES expanded to recruit from roughly one dozen schools and has representation at eleven schools.
- Between the first and second admissions cycles, the number of applicants increased by 47%, and direct recruitment (i.e., family members and those who knew someone already in the program) accounted for 50% of the students who successfully made it through the selection and evaluation process for the 2015-16 cohort.
- 44% of 2014-15 cohort students were accepted to and received scholarships to attend Magis, a competitive summer program at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory High School in San Francisco, and 63% of 2015-16 cohort students were accepted to the program this year.
- 100% of 2015-16 and 2014-15 students were accepted to external programs for the summer of 2016, and 100% of the students and their younger siblings participated in summer enrichment.