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How Does Your School Culture Support Struggling Students?

You may be able to close your eyes and remember your first day of high school.  Can you remember the bus ride, the smell of the hallway, your homeroom teacher? If we allow yourself, you may be able to feel that knot in your stomach that you felt as you lay in bed the night before pondering unanswered questions.  What if I get lost? What if I do not know anyone in my classes? Who will I sit with at lunch? Will my teachers like me? How will the upperclassmen treat me? As you come back to reality with praise that you are no longer an awkward, nervous 14 year old, you can understand why freshmen often struggle as they transition to high school.  There are so many changes. Some of these changes may include adjusting to new classmates from different feeder schools, new social pressures as fourteen-year-olds adapt to physical and emotional changes, new buildings that are often much larger than middle school buildings, the academic rigor of the block schedule, and many other obstacles that we all can remember from our own high school experiences.  Because of the challenges and questions students are faced with each day, it is imperative that a school who strives for a healthy school culture provide answers, direction, and support to students. Without intentionally designing your school culture to catch students who are struggling academically, the success of the other positive aspects of your culture will be stifled.
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We know freshmen who earn less than “C” average are more likely to drop out than graduate. With an appreciation for the multiple daily challenges our students face and the importance of freshmen grades compared to academics later in high school, we are tasked with providing multiple interventions for students who need the extra push to stay above the important 2.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).  By providing a myriad of interventions, we attempt to reach all students and purposefully keep the focus on one of the main indicators of high school graduation, course performance.

Nearly all K-12 schools intervene for struggling students.  Such interventions can include a Positive Behavior Intervention System, scheduled enrichment/remedial period, using online programs to close achievement gaps, attendance incentive for good grades, and technology initiatives, to name a few.  With the resources and setting that we have, below are just a few of the interventions that we have implemented in order to build a school culture where every student has the opportunity to succeed.

One of the most proactive and effective interventions we have is our after-school tutoring program.  Twice a week, teachers from our End of Course Test (EOCT) subjects stay for an hour after-school and provide remedial instruction for students who are struggling.  This setting benefits the student because he/she is able to complete homework while using the teacher as a resource. Also during this time, students can practice concepts with which they are struggling, complete test corrections to improve summative grades, or complete late, missing assignments.  To remove the transportation issue that after-school tutoring can present, we work closely with the district’s transportation department to offer free bus ride home to students who stay for tutoring.

In the weeks immediately prior to the EOCTs, our after-school tutoring program transforms into “EOC Blitz”.  During these study sessions, the teachers focus on the most important skills needed for success on the upcoming state assessments.  Free transportation and snacks are provided during the EOC Blitz.

While after-school tutoring is our most used intervention, we have multiple students whose conflicts with an after-school job or family duties do not allow them to participate. To accommodate the remaining students who are not able to stay after-school, our teachers often available for the 45 minutes between the school doors being opened and first block to students who need extra help.  

The majority of our students are able to receive the extra support they need during before or after school tutoring. In addition to the extra time with teachers, our struggling students are tracked by the counselor who develops and monitors action plans with each student individually.  

Being proactive in our interventions for struggling students do not always prevent students from failing a course, and students who fail a course their ninth-grade year automatically are “off track” to graduate on time (http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/blog/why-ninth-grade-critical-time-students/). If a student does not pass a class, the student can be placed in a credit recovery program.  Recovering a credit in a course required for graduation can prevent students from repeating the entire semester and can allow the student to avoid the weight of a course failure. Our credit recovery program allows the student the opportunity to master difficult concepts and apply his/her knowledge through summative assessments.  The credit recovery program is the last intervention we attempt before a student loses a credit and carries an “F” on his/her GPA.

tempIn addition to the aforementioned interventions, we also have a study skills class, a high school transition class, and we use data to place each student in the appropriate level of rigor when possible.  Academic detentions, strict behavior policies, and high expectations for student attendance are also major factors in academic success.

Throughout each intervention, parent contact is a major component of not allowing freshmen grades to suffer.  We’ve found that parents will work with the school in providing the extra support needed as long as the parent is aware of the issue. Instead of assuming parents are actively checking grades online, teachers, the counselor, and administrator all reach out to parents and review academic expectations and promotion and graduation requirements.  

In this blog, we have listed just a few of the interventions that we have found to be successful in our setting.  This year, we are challenging ourselves to increase our interventions for our students with disabilities and our economically disadvantaged students.  Please share with us the interventions you have found to be successful with your students, especially the subgroups we have targeted for this school year.    

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