FAMILY FOCUS: Task force will focus on closing school achievement gap in boys

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Education says third grade boys are reading below their grade level compared to girls. But a task force is working to close the gap by giving boys the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.

The Florida Department of Education says third grade boys are reading below their grade level compared to girls.

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But a task force is working to close the gap by giving boys the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.

13-year-old Nicholas Santana, for instance, struggled learning in first grade.

“My obstacles were reading, comprehension,” he said.

His mother Sondra Santana, also a nurse practitioner, noticed this early on.

“He would shy away from reading or reading the bigger books like his peers would,” Sondra remembered.

“Sometimes it was a big struggle,” she added.

So, she got help.

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“We got him a tutor [...] We had an open communication with the teacher, the teacher would recommend, ‘Hey, I see this strategy works,’” Sondra explained.

Now, Nicholas is thriving.

“I can overcome my reading struggles better,” Nicholas proudly acknowledged.

The Department of Education says Nicholas isn’t alone, however, and is evidence of an achievement gap.

It looked at data from the 2018 school year which showed 44% of third grade boys were reading below grade level, a four percentage point deficit as compared to girls.

For 10th grade boys, that deficit is even higher at an 11% difference between boys and girls.

Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Sondra to the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys.

This taskforce wants to make sure students are on the road to success before they get to middle school and high school, so they’re using a three-pronged approach to help kids in elementary school, zeroing in on things like:

1) professional development for school staff

2) curriculum materials and classroom activities

3) academic, behavioral and mental health support

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“She’s always helping me and now she can help other kids, too,” Nicholas said.

The task force will submit recommendations to Governor DeSantis by Dec. 1st.

“I believe that probably a lot of the things that come out of the task force would be just as applicable for girls, as well,” Sondra said.

In the meantime, Nicholas is ready to take on 8th grade at Orange Park Junior High School — and he’s got big dreams.

“[I’m] looking forward to being the best engineer in my school,” he said.

He also has some words of advice to other students who are struggling: “Keep pushing through, never give up, and do your best.”