A (Not-So-Secret) Formula for Incredible Student Growth

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by Anna Layden
Teacher, Southside Community Prep

When one of my students, Sarah*, achieved the most growth in her grade, I wasn’t surprised. Her incredible drive to work hard always stood out; for a kindergartner, that level of dedication was unique for her. She came in wanting to learn and improve.

When Sarah also achieved one of the highest overall scorers on her middle and end of the school year assessments, I was in awe. Her success was a testament to how personalized learning, the right school environment and a dedicated team of educators can make an extraordinary difference in a child’s learning.

School didn’t always come easily to Sarah, a silly but shy first grader at Southside Community Prep. After receiving special education support at her previous schools, she transferred to RSCP in K5 and immediately received support from our special education team. At the beginning of the year, Sarah did not know her letters, and was below a pre-reading level. It was also clear she sometimes felt uncomfortable at school, often crawling under her table during class, as if she was trying to hide herself.

Partnering with RSCP’s special education team, we worked intensively every day with Sarah. Sarah spent much of her day in a general education classroom with me, learning alongside her peers. She also received extra individualized attention and daily small group instruction. I met with her mother often, including for a home visit, and we worked together to understand Sarah’s progress and figure out how to meet her unique needs.

One thing was clear about Sarah: she worked really, really hard. Even during independent work time, she was always practicing forming her letters correctly, and forming letter sounds.

With help from personalized instruction, she began flourishing. Having a place where she felt safe and supported every day helped Sarah come out of her shell and express her silly personality. She became more open with her classmates and was able to communicate more. She no longer needed to hide from the world; instead, she was raising her hand and actively participating in class.

Halfway through the year, Sarah’s special education team and her parents reflected on her extraordinary growth and made the team decision to exit her from special education support.

While I still worked with Sarah one-on-one after school some days, she was well on her way to performing not just on grade level, but near the top of her class. Today, I’m proud to see Sarah thriving as a first grader, and know her drive to grow will help her excel as a Rocketeer and beyond.

Sarah’s incredible achievements would not have been possible without Rocketship’s amazing integrated special education team or personalized learning program. Students in our special education program are practicing how to cope with their feelings and succeed in a general education classroom full time. They’re learning in a way that’s best for them and growing as lifelong learners. Along with small group and one-on-one instruction, our teachers are able to teach kids exactly at their level, wherever they may be. With this winning formula – and a work ethic like Sarah’s – we know any child can achieve great things.

Have an inspiring success story? Share it with us ➟ @RocketshipEd

*Name has been changed to protect privacy


Anna came to Rocketship in 2014 as a first year TFA corps member. She is determined to work her hardest to close the achievement gap in Milwaukee. When she is not working, she is spending time with her family. 

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