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September 30, 2019


Improves GPA by 40 Percent and Closes Gap in Student Achievement

Image Caption: In August 2019, STAR Scholars visited Washington, D.C. through a grant provided by Herb Kohl Philanthropies with the purpose of learning more about American government and history through direct experience.

September 30, 2019


Improves GPA by 40 Percent and Closes Gap in Student Achievement

APPLETON, Wis. – A national Annie E. Casey Foundation policy report in 2014 ranked the state of Wisconsin as the worst of 46 states studied for supporting the wellbeing of African American children, while having the 10th best rating for supporting white children.

Aware of this report, a ThedaCare Community Health Action Team undertook a community “plunge” in August 2016 to study the situation in the Fox Valley area. Plunges are day-long events where community leaders meet with people in the community connected to the issue they’re exploring.

“Our goal was to better understand the experience of living as an African American person in the predominately white Fox Cities area,” said Paula Morgen, Director of Community Health for ThedaCare Health Systems. “We then wanted to understand how that experience affects the health and well being of our black citizens.”

The Plunge resulted in an 18-month study of the opportunity gaps in education among black versus white students.

“In the course of that study, our group learned that only 65 percent of black students in the Appleton School District graduated from high school during the 2017-2018 school year, compared to 92 percent of white students,” Morgen said. “The fact that African American students are graduating at a lower rate than white students is a serious health concern.”

Armed with that information, a work group formed to explore the opportunity gaps that African American students encounter in the Fox Cities area.

“We took the best model and came back and created the STAR program — Scholars on Target to Achieve Results,” explained Morgen. “It is a culturally responsive support program for middle and high school black students in the Appleton and Menasha school districts.”

The STAR program is currently active in five middle schools and four high schools in the Appleton and Menasha school districts. From Semester 1 to Semester 2 of the 2018-2019 year, STAR students who were not on track academically, showed the following improvements:

  • 40 percent improved their grade point average.
  • 40 percent made progress toward being on track with credit accrual to graduate on time.
  • 24 percent of students who were failing at least one course are now passing all courses.
  • 62 percent improved school attendance.

68 percent decreased office discipline referrals.

“We are pleased with the program results from our first full school year since STAR was implemented,” said Kayla McNamara, Senior Director of Targeted Support Services including the STAR Program for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. “We are now working on analyzing outcomes and setting priorities for next year because we are committed to continually finding ways to improve the program.”

The program is a collaborative effort involving the African Heritage Inc., Appleton Area School District, Menasha Joint School District, Lawrence University, St. Norbert College, Fox Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin System and ThedaCare. The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley is the hub organization providing the connection to students.

The goals of the STAR program are:

  1. Increase school engagement.
  2. Improve graduation rates.
  3. Improve post-secondary enrollment rates.

“As a community organization with a dedicated focus on African Americans, we relied on research, expertise and our 21-year history of authentic engagement to develop models that resulted in the STAR program,” said Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran, Co-Founder of African Heritage, Inc., and scholar on African American students and families at St. Norbert College, and one of the lead facilitators for the work group.

In particular the program hopes to achieve its goals by focusing on:

  1. Improving and enhancing academic success by offering tutoring, homework help and hands-on activities relevant to the student.
  2. Increasing post-secondary attendance by providing college and career readiness programs, ACT prep courses, assistance with financial aid applications and job shadowing experiences.
  3. Fostering youth leadership and community involvement by connecting youth to youth development activities and community service projects.
  4. Enhancing family engagement through culturally specific celebrations, relevant approaches, home visits and awards ceremonies.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the first year of the program, 374 students from the Appleton and Menasha school districts participated in the program. Nine full-time Opportunity Coordinators served as advocates, mentors, connectors and guides for students in the communities.

Of the 28 seniors involved in the program in 2018-2019, 86 percent graduated.

“We are encouraged by the number of seniors we supported in graduating this year,” said McNamara. “It confirmed for us that we are on the right track, and we look forward to further deepening our impact next year.”

“We are confident that when provided access to equitable, quality and culturally specific opportunities, African American students are academically engaged and successful,” said Dr. Delano-Oriaran. “We hope that these preliminary results will serve as an impetus to our communities on the critical need and significance to invest in race-specific programs such as the STAR program as we know they work and also add value to the vitality of communities.”

One STAR scholar said, “I benefited from STAR because I feel more comfortable about who I am as a person. I don’t feel like I’m alone. I know there are other people just like me with whom I can connect.”

Funding for the STAR program is supported by United Way Fox Cities, Thrivent Financial Foundation, the ThedaCare Community Health Action Team Fund, the Mielke Family Foundation, the Bright Ideas Fund, and the Basic Needs Giving Partnership Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, which is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs and the J. J. Keller Foundation and other community partners.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization serves a community of more than 600,000 residents and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout the regions. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 31 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.