Program overview

  • Afterschool program focusing on middle school students: Higher Achievement is an afterschool program that operates in under-resourced communities. It aims to prepare students in grades 5-8 and for success in high school and beyond. As part of the program, students (called “scholars” in the Higher Achievement model) receive academic supports, mentoring, and other enrichment opportunities.

  • Targeting motivated, underserved scholars: Unlike many afterschool programs, Higher Achievement does not target students in need of remedial support. Instead, the program recruits academically motivated scholars who may lack access to supplemental enrichment opportunities. Scholars join the program in fifth or sixth grade and continue through their eighth grade graduation.

  • Operating in school-based Achievement Centers: Public school districts partner with Higher Achievement to provide programming in middle schools, with each site referred to as an Achievement Center. In some school districts, Achievement Centers operate as magnets and serve students from multiple schools, while in others, each site only serves students who attend the hosting school. The program operates three to four days each week for approximately four hours per day (varying slightly based on school schedules) and runs the entire school year.

  • Academic support delivered during Learning Blocks: Each day, during Higher Achievement programming, students participate in a Learning Block period. The Learning Block serves as dedicated time for students to complete their homework, receive support from staff, and participate in educational electives (e.g., Lego engineering clubs). Older scholars may also work on their high school applications during this time.

  • Mentoring for high school readiness: Higher Achievement scholars meet with a dedicated mentor once a week in small groups (maximum four scholars per mentor) to work on lessons from a high school readiness curriculum. The lessons in this curriculum have been developed by Higher Achievement staff and are structured to assist scholars in setting personal and educational goals; exploring their high school, college, and career options; and building their social-emotional skills.

  • Enrichment opportunities to encourage well-rounded growth: In addition to its academic focus, Higher Achievement also offers a range of enrichment opportunities for scholars including field trips, college visits, job panels, arts and sports clubs, and activities focused on current events.

One study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for Higher Achievement as a strategy to improve middle school students’ academic outcomes.

  • A 2020 randomized controlled trial found Higher Achievement positively impacted students’ math and reading test scores, increased students’ likelihood of attending private high schools, and decreased their likelihood of attending non-competitive charter or magnet high schools. However, the program did not demonstrate an impact on students' college attendance in this evaluation.
  • Earn buy-in from parents and families: Higher Achievement’s model relies on a strong commitment from students and families to ensure that scholars participate in the program for their entire middle school experience. It is important to conduct informational sessions and interviews with parents and guardians prior to scholars’ entering the program and to maintain regular communication with families throughout their child’s time in the program.

  • Build strong relationships with schools: Beyond being physically located within partner schools, Higher Achievement benefits from collaborative partnerships with host sites and districts. Having a strong partnership allows for Higher Achievement staff to better align academic supports with the in-school curricula, recruit scholars more easily, collect data on grades and test scores efficiently, and more fully integrate into the school community.

  • Customize programming to fit each Achievement Center: Higher Achievement operates with a core program model, but staff at each Achievement Center should have the opportunity to customize programming to best fit the school community. For example, at schools with other existing afterschool programs, Higher Achievement may establish partnerships so that scholars are able to attend multiple programs rather than having to choose.

  • Prioritize staff retention: Part of the benefit of Higher Achievement’s approach is the relationships that scholars are able to build with caring and trusted adults. As such, it is important that turnover among staff members is minimized so that scholars are able to build consistent and enduring relationships with adult staff members. Steps to support staff retention may include staff appreciation programming, improved salary and benefits, recruiting from local communities with demonstrated commitment to scholars, and providing opportunities for growth and promotion within the organization.