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Education and Academic Support / College Readiness and Retention

Blue Engine

In 2015 and 2016, the Heckscher Foundation provided capacity-building support for Blue Engine’s targeted growth within New York City and its expansion to an additional city in 2016. Blue Engine partners with underserved public high schools in New York City to increase academic rigor and prepare greater numbers of students for post-secondary success. To achieve its mission, Blue Engine delivers daily small-group instruction in three gateway skills: math, literacy, and social cognition. Partner schools are selected based on criteria that determine a high level of need: they must serve a population in which a critical mass of students has not historically performed at college-ready levels on standardized tests, the minority student population is high, the majority of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, and the percentage of special education students and English Language Learners exceeds city averages.

Blue Engine recruits and trains recent college graduates to serve as Blue Engine Teaching Assistants (BETAs) for one year. BETAs and students work in small groups to accelerate academic achievement. Three to four BETAs partner with each classroom teacher to customize math and literacy instruction, dramatically reducing the instructor-to-student ratios from 1:6 to 1:3 on average and providing an additional 150 hours of instruction in Math and English outside of regular class time through extended day learning and flexible class periods.

The model has been effectively scaled since the program’s founding in 2009. During the 2015 to 2016 academic year, 87 BETAs collaborated with more than 40 teachers serving over 1,400 students in seven schools in the South Bronx and Washington Heights. Students served by Blue Engine are 3.7 times more likely to pass the Integrated Algebra exam and 7.6 times more likely to score college ready than their peers district-wide. Achieving competency in Integrated Algebra is one of the highest predictors of college success.

With the foundation’s support, Blue Engine is partnering with two other organizations to increase the scope and efficacy of their BETA program: Relay Graduate School of Education and the College Advising Corps (CAC). Relay will offer a teacher certification program for second-year BETAs. CAC will help to formalize a college readiness curriculum for 11th– and 12th-grade students.

In 2017, Blue Engine will build a new program coaching and support model that is optimized for team teaching, incorporates the mentor teacher, and helps all instructors become more effective in teaching rigorous college and career-ready standards. The organization will develop and enhance support structures that are designed to facilitate the most dramatic student academic growth in a given school year and to facilitate development and continuous improvement for both teachers-in-training/BETAs and the mentor teachers who oversee them.