Students in Maryland’s Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) high school programs are unique in many ways – their diligence, interest, and participation in one of the only statewide K-12 HSEP courses of study in the U.S. often make them stand out, almost by definition.

In one way, however, they are no different than their peers throughout the nation’s high schools: their vulnerability to economic disadvantages. Over 27% of Maryland’s K-12 students lived in poverty during the 2021-2022 school year, and HSEP students were by no means immune to the effects of that situation. In fact, economically disadvantaged HSEP students face 4-year graduation gaps of anywhere from 4% to over 19%, relative to their more economically well-resourced peers.

MACEM&PS’ Instructional & Technical Designer, Joe Rafter, recently took it as his mission to not only investigate why, but also more importantly, investigate ways in which those gaps could be closed. His results are detailed in the recently published white paper, “Breaking the Cycle: A Multi-Faceted Approach to Tackling Educational Inequities for Economically Disadvantaged Students in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Programs.”

According to Joe, one of the biggest takeaways is that the best practices he identified, analyzed, and compiled, are at their best when they’re applied to all students, HSEP or otherwise.

“As I explored the literature, I began to realize the research-based discussions and recommendations would actually benefit all students. I was particularly attracted to the research about engaging families through diverse communications channels, participation in decision-making, and connecting them to resources supporting their students well-being.”

MACEM&PS Instructional & Technical Designer Joseph Rafter brings research expertise and a wealth of experience as a former K-12 teacher to the discussion.

Beyond that systemic focus on partnerships, Rafter notes that, if he had to choose, the recommendations in his research and review for developing student growth mindset are likely the most important targets for an individual teacher looking for ways to elevate their students’ achievement. “When students have the skills and dispositions to face and overcome a learning challenge, the opportunities to break the cycle of poverty raise significantly. These skills don’t always fit into the explicit curriculum in the classroom. But they are vital elements of the hidden curriculum that prepares students for their future.”

You can download and read Joe’s paper and find out the details here – and you should!