ZAP program pushes students to succeed

            In a single semester, a program named “Zeroes Aren’t Permitted” (ZAP) has significantly decreased the dropout/failure rates for two schools in the Charlotte Public Schools district.

When goals for the academic school year of 2007-2008 were set, one of the top priorities for Charlotte Public Schools was to reduce their dropout/failing rates. After traveling to a school in Kansas that had started the program, Charlotte officials set out to mimic the success that had been witnessed in Kansas.

“With ZAP, we’ve reduced the rate (of failing students) 61 percent,” said Jack VonAchen, Charlotte Middle School assistant principal.

The system was first tested at Charlotte High School, where it has seen various levels of progress in different subject areas. According to Charlotte High School Principal Lee Wheaton, freshmen English has dropped the number of students holding an “E” 33 percent from where students were after one semester last year. In U.S. History, there has been a 50 percent decrease in failing grades.

ZAP is an after-school study session held once a week for students at both the middle school and high school level. The goal is to make students responsible for their work by doing just as the name insists – not permitting zeroes. Teachers are also present at ZAP to help with students’ assignments. However, the students have consequences if they choose not to attend ZAP and instead accept zeroes.

Although the goal is the same for both the high school and middle school, the logistics and consequences between the two have slight differences.

At the middle school, students log in to a grading system on the internet with a designated login and password at the beginning of every school week. There, students can click on every subject for which they are enrolled and check their progress. Teachers also keep track of their students, and hand out ZAP slips to remind students they have work to make up. “Kids don’t want to get zapped,” said Deb Zeis, eighth grade history teacher at Charlotte Middle School. “When I hand them their slip, most of them are bummed out and I see the work within 24 hours.” Otherwise, missing assignments are highlighted in pink, and, for the middle school, are due that Wednesday to their teachers. If work still isn’t handed in by Wednesday, ZAP is after school on Thursday.

The timeline is similar for the high school. “Most students get a two-day notice,” said Karen Anderson, Media Specialist and coordinator of ZAP at Charlotte High School. Anderson said that if students don’t get two days, they definitely have 24 hours. If work is still missing after the duration of their probation period, students must then attend a ZAP session held after school. The high school holds ZAP twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday.

The consequences set the ZAP program at Charlotte Middle School and Charlotte High School apart.

At the middle school, if the student(s) do not attend two consecutive ZAP sessions VonAchen calls home to parents to let them know of their child’s behavior. “This has also helped us increase communication between the school and the home,” said VonAchen. In addition to a call home, the student has an in-school suspension, or “Friday school” to attend.

            The high school throws a harder curveball to its students with ZAP, though.

            “ZAP takes precedence over everything you have,” said Principal Wheaton. “For example, if you have basketball practice, you cannot attend until you’ve gone to ZAP and completed your work,” he said. “It’s another way of saying that school comes first.” The students at the high school have color-coded IDs; so if one has a maroon ID, Wheaton says, you lose all school privileges. The ultimate consequence is “Saturday school,” or Saturday morning detention.

However, VonAchen and Wheaton agreed that the intent of the program is not to punish but instead help make a difference. “ZAP is neither built for nor meant to be a punishment,” said VonAchen. Rather, he explained, it is intended to be an opportunity for kids to get help with their work, with the benefit of a teacher being there to help. “The reason we have (ZAP) is simply so students don’t get zeroes,” Wheaton agreed.

            “(ZAP) has been very effective,” VonAchen elaborated. Wheaton sees the program sticking around the high school even after its success rate has peaked, but the middle school might have a different plan. “We will reevaluate the program at the end of the year and see how things will look next year,” said Zeis. Possible changes to the program that are already being discussed, said VonAchen include how to make students realize the importance of ZAP without penalizing them and a different setup pertaining to the teachers who stay after school.

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