The small learning community provides a range of options and areas of interest within the science or mathematics discipline that is beneficial to all students especially those who are at risk and may not learn better in large class sizes. The SLC takes care of all students by providing relevance, rigor and relationships that prepares students for workplace and college. An unexpected outcome of the SLC movement has been an advancement of academic rigor and relevancy which provides multiple opportunities to meet the needs of the student and promote self reliance to make good social and academic choices (Blanchard and Hamrs, 2006).There are different effects of the SLC on the ninth graders who are at risk of internal and external factors. Science and mathematics students face different challenges and difficulties. The small class or communities influence the manner in which they conduct themselves academically and socially. The students are assisted by mentors, counselors, parents, teachers and administration. They are helped to avoid negative consequences that may interfere with their educational goals. Reduction of dropout rates: There are serious societal and individual consequences for failure to graduate. The federal government has put in place various measures to reduce dropout rates. Increase graduation rates. Dropouts are students who leave school before high school graduation, but fail to re-enroll. Graduates are students who receive general education development certificate.High level of achievement: The students are able to select specialized classes depending on their personal interests. The science and mathematics project themes given per learning community enables the students to explore the theme and focus in great depth. This increases the students' achievement and feelings of isolation as sometimes experienced in large schools is reduced. The learning needs of each student and relationship with family is fostered. Students may be provided with personal and individual teaching and opportunities for learning based on needs and strengths.Links with community: The students, through the small learning communities, form partnerships that permit them to extend their learning outside the normal classroom environment. The science and mathematics students at risk are able to connect with community organizations and thus, they can explore their potential careers through job shadowing, internships and work-based learning. The staff are able to know targeted and at risk students pretty well. The students' assets and needs are identified and mathematics or science program developed that is tailored to the needs of the students.Higher performance: In the small learning communities, the students become more productive and experience academic achievement. The small classes have made it possible to close in the achievement gap that exists between minority and low-income students and higher-income students. The student progress becomes positive despite the effects of poverty. It is noted that the larger the school, the severe the effects of poverty on achievement (Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, and Schaps, 1995).Sharing knowledge and skills: Reducing school size can potentially influence the achievement of students. The science and mathematics students who are at risk may have fewer referrals, higher graduation rates, and community and parent involvement. The ninth grade students are organized into small learning communities known as houses where they are subjected to sharing experiences and support from common teachers in core academic areas. Knowledge Networking: Science and mathematics are handled based on experimentation and practical aspects of learning. Organizing students in small classes promote knowledge networking. This will develop a sense of communal memory and wisdom that goes beyond individual contributions of each student. The classes can help the students at risk in gaining intelligence and performing reflective activities. Small communities promote knowledge networking among mathematics and science students at an early stage of their careers.
Safer learning environment: The school administration and staff become involved in leading a team of ninth graders and this increases their chances of success. Building relationships is important in the life of students. These relationships are formed among students, among students, between students and staff, and between the community and school personnel. These relationships help in strengthening the sense of student involvement and belonging, and this increases their chances if long term achievement.Gender specific learning environment: The small learning communities are organized and take into consideration at risk gender groups such as girls and other minorities. Math and science classes are conducted for girls only. Same-sex classes or single sex-schools help the students to avoid distractions. The needs of students who have been unsuccessful in traditional, coeducational schools can learn more effectively in same-sex classes.Project based learning: Science and mathematics courses require project and practical to compliment theory. Project based learning can be better achieved in the small learning communities. This allows students to work in a collaborative manner and adopt group work to solve problems. Science is not all about memorization of parts, formulas and bodies. Theory can pose problems to students who are better at project work. The learning process in science need to be aligned to the process of practice, and this can be beneficial when done in an interactive environment where student participation levels are higher. Learning in communities allows students to reconstruct knowledge progressively from immature experiences to the learning experiences based on meaning and systematic organization. Collaboration and teamwork: The development of teams in small classes takes consideration of interests, personality, ability and other factors that are essential for academic success. Working as a team improves one's morale and positive thinking. Grouping of ninth grade students can be beneficial for at-risk students. Benefits from societal shifts: Science and mathematics shift focus between agricultural, industrial and technological societal directions. The graduates are trained to be critical thinkers, effective communicators and problem solvers. The graduates should be proficient in the core subject areas. Working as small groups or learning communities assist at risk students to develop life skills as well as literary skills. Ninth grade is very important to students' success and completion of high school. The students need interventions during this time in order to minimize dropout rates, standardize test scores, and increase graduation rates. There is need to understand students when they arrive in high school in order to assist those who are at risk. This can help science and mathematics students. The Small Learning communities for ninth grade students are organized as freshman academies. These academies or communities become effective to high school student in a number of ways (Spake, 2010).
Generally, the academy is beneficial to at risk students since it eases their transition into high school and helps them in their career exploration (McDonough, 2004). They operate under same staff or team teaching in core areas, mentoring as well as extra support services are provided. These helps at risk students achieve success in academic and social aspects of life. The small learning community (SLC) makes at risk students to realize a mire meaningful life that incorporates all: teachers, students, family and other collaborators which make communication easier. This improves relationships between students and teachers (Coffee & Pestridge, 2001). At-risk factors are internal and external. Students who are considered as at risk also need same opportunities as normal students: making strategic choices and assistance with specific situations or problems. Students who are at risk may require a wide range of intensive, long term support services.
Programs developed to assist at risk students should be holistic and able to help the student at present state and in the future. At risk students need caring, knowledgeable adults who may be mentors, teachers, parents, community members and counselors. This will help in establishing trust and attention of the adult to solve the challenging situation. The student will have a feeling of belonging and community development is improved. Students who are at risk are viewed in terms of assets and owners of social and academic capital. They should be helped to develop future skills. Caring adults focus on assets and small communities reflect caring for youth (Mosteller, 1995). Marginalization of students can come as a result of lack of respect for the students by their peers, and adults. There should be profound respect for the intelligence and talents of the students despite the nature of risk they may be facing. High risk and disaffected students can perform better when challenged (Johnson, Smith, Smythe, & Varon, 2009). There expectations at post secondary level should be challenged to enable them succeed. This should be addressed in consideration of support through small learning communities. There are serious societal and individual consequences for failure to graduate. The federal government has put in place various measures to reduce dropout rates. Increase graduation rates. Dropouts are students who leave school before high school graduation, but fail to re-enroll. Graduates are students who receive general education development certificate.Research shows that between 1972 and 1996, the rate of school dropouts for students coming from low earning families was higher than that of their counterparts who come from well off families (Sanders, 2000). Further more, the scores of minority and poor students in mathematics and science are very low compared to the other students. Research reveals that such students are taught by tutors who have no professional qualifications to teach these subjects (Sanders, 2000). Several researchers have proved that students that come from suburban are likely to achieve poor grades especially in math and science thus posing a bigger challenge to their teachers. According to Sagor & Cox (2004), this may be attributed to factors such as poverty, language background, the composition of their families as well as the education level of their mothers (Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, and Schaps, 1995).There are a several reasons that result to dropout of students from school. Some of these factors are beyond the control of educators since they stem from student or family issues. It is found out that educational institutions contribute greatly to the problems of dropping out by students. The course content, type of instruction, adult-student relationships, school climate and school organization can influence students to drop out (Shannon, & Bylsma, 2005). Small learning communities help to nurture students and in such cases, the dropout rate reduces considerably.The small learning communities help at-risk students of mathematics and science from dropping out of school. The students are taught in separate academies around career centered themes. The students at risk have alternative classes and thee are groups for targeted grade level. This makes it possible for 9th
grade students of science and mathematics who are at risk to learn effectively, and thus preventing dropout (Hull, 2005).A career pathway/ cluster is any separately defined, individualized learning unit within a larger school setting. Students and teachers are scheduled together and frequently have a common area of the school in which to hold most or all their classes (Sammon, 2000). According the U.S. Department of Education SLC program, academy models organize their curricula around one or major themes, usually careers or occupations. Career academies are designed to make students make direct connections (Coffee & Pestridge, 2001) Small learning communities may in the form of teaming where students are assigned team of teachers can help the teachers know the at-risk students better. The students are provided with academic and social support through mentoring, tutoring and organized advisory sessions. The at-risk students can personalize schools due to small class sizes. The students who are at risk are less able to idle and their participation in small learning communities increases. They are able to feel a sense of belonging and it may be difficult for them to hide in the crowd. The students are able to work in a group in a more cohesive manner.The students who are at risk have chances for mentoring and counseling by other students and teachers. This builds and increases the quality of relationships. They are able to participate in experimental or project learning that is part of scientific or mathematical studies. This makes the relationship to be stronger and they can easily overcome educational challenges. The students are able to connect to adults in the school, or learning community. The students are able to attend school since the teachers become significant source of social capital for them. The at risk science and mathematics are able to continue with education since the teachers build positive relationships which create powerful incentives despite the challenging academic work they may be experiencing.The students attach considerable social importance to their teachers, especially on discovering that the teachers care. In the small learning communities, the students are helped to adjust to the conditions and the schools also adjust to the needs of the students. This makes at risk students of science and mathematics to feel the need to achieve and demonstrate academic competence. The students feel the mutual relationship between them and teachers, always built on respect. The educators are responsible for assisting students to overcome the barriers to social bonding and membership. The students are introduced into peer cultures oriented at success.The students are able to select specialized classes depending on their personal interests. The science and mathematics project themes given per learning community enables the students to explore the theme and focus in great depth. This increases the students' achievement and feelings of isolation as sometimes experienced in large schools is reduced. The learning needs of each student and relationship with family is fostered. Students may be provided with personal and individual teaching and opportunities for learning based on needs and strengths (Klem & Connell, 2004). Most of students who are at risk may feel that the school is disconnected from realities of community or home. Their goals and aspirations may be limited. These learning communities are organized around career, academic and interest based themes that enable students to develop learning alternatives and choices. This helps the science and mathematics students, including those at risk, to mirror their best interests or future career goals. The students can have opportunities to work with related community, college or business partners and experience electives within the context of their interests and academic goals. Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, and Schaps (1995) has defined at-risk students as those who are likely to fail in academics because of social circumstances that are beyond their control. She also emphasizes on the importance of teachers having close relationships with them so that they can understand them better and provide enough support on their development and support. Some of the challenges that he identifies include lack of eagerness and incentive to learn, achievement gaps among students as well as social diversity.The rates of push-outs and dropouts are higher in schools with greater numbers of at-risk students compared to schools that have low numbers of such students. In most cases, these students are either poor, come from single parented families, broken homes, abused or are drug addicts. Administrators and tutors thus face the challenge of dealing with students who have already given up in life and try to put some sense and hope in them. Some of the students are more of burdens because they pull down the performance of the schools especially in the most sensitive subjects such as math and science. Research has also proved that if these barriers, poverty and other pressing circumstances, are identified and removed, then at-risk students are most likely to improve and succeed in such subjects (Battistich et al., 1995).