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Program for troubled youths gets presidential visit — and new academic component

President Barack Obamspeaks Hyde Park Academy High School Chicago Ill. Friday February 15 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

President Barack Obama speaks at Hyde Park Academy High School in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, February 15, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:44PM



A sports program shown to decrease violence and boost school attendance among troubled teenage boys in Chicago is now seeing success with a new component: math tutoring.

Last year, the University of Chicago Crime Lab announced violent-crime arrest rates fell 44 percent among about 800 students who participated in a program called “Becoming a Man — Sports Edition.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently pledged to pump about $2 million into the program, which uses Olympic sports and counseling to improve at-risk students’ attitudes about school. President Barack Obama met students in the program during a visit to Hyde Park Academy High School on Friday.

While researchers were impressed with the results of the BAM program in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, “we were not turning the F student into a C student or a B student,” said Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the Justice Department, the University of Chicago Crime Lab decided to see whether combining math tutoring with the BAM program would spark academic improvements in the students.

“We were completely blown away,” Ander said.

Researchers have been tracking 54 boys at Harper High School for 17 weeks.

Twenty-two of them participated in the combination of tutoring and BAM. They saw bigger gains in their grade-point averages, lower absenteeism and fewer course failures than their 32 counterparts who participated only in BAM, Ander said.

Meanwhile, the BAM-only students improved tremendously compared to a control group of at-risk students who weren’t in the program at all.

Based on those early results, the University of Chicago Crime Lab would like to widen its study to include about 1,500 students on the South and West Sides over the 2013-14 school year, Ander said.

“When they’re in an environment with their peers, it’s hard to focus,” said John Wolf of the crime lab. “Put them in an environment that fosters their learning and they want to learn.”

He said one Harper student attended only three days of school before Thanksgiving but has missed only three days since entering the combined sports and math tutoring program.

“This kid was on the verge of dropping out and now he’s learning,” Wolf said.



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