As we push toward a strong finish to the school year and prepare for 2021-22, it’s fitting we recognize practices that have made a difference during the pandemic. The newly released guide, Stand Stronger features seven stand-out high school practices identified by the Center for High School Success and are based on partnerships with 128 high schools in the CHSS six-state network.
“Start a Ninth Grade Success Team” is a strategy prominently featured in the Stand Stronger Guide. A Success Team regularly reviews early warning indicators (Attendance, Behavior and Course performance) to identify and support 9th grade students who are failing one or two of their classes. Teams use protocols to manage their meetings, take a strengths-based approach in supporting students and assess the effectiveness of those supports.
I had the opportunity to discuss this strategy with the Ninth Grade Success (NGS) team members at Prairie View High School (PVHS) located in Henderson, Colorado. We have been highlighting Prairie View High School’s launch of their Freshman Academy this school year, please check out previous articles. This is the final blog of the 4-part series.
To start the conversation, I asked NGS Success team members about what is important to know about their work. Nicole Ramirez, NGS Team Lead and English Teacher, noted that context matters, “Ninth grade is a tough transition for many students. They go from a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. It's overwhelming, it's scary, and it's an unknown.” To this point, Jacquie Brown, NGS Team Lead and Math Teacher described the focus of their efforts. “Our purpose is to support and help the 9th graders. We believe in all students and recognize not all 9th graders come into high school with the skills they need to succeed. We want to help them develop those skills, give them the appropriate support and show them we believe in them.”
The Freshman Academy at PVHS includes four NGS teams of 9th grade teachers, administrators and counselors. Teams meet bi-weekly to analyze student data and conduct “Kid Talks” where they discuss and design student interventions to assist 9th graders who are struggling and falling behind in their course work. Here’s what the NGS team leads shared about their kid talks:
Kid Talks offer opportunities for teachers to collaborate to create interventions to help engage and support students. Students who respond to the interventions appear to thrive. -Nicole Ramirez
Overall, I have seen better communication with students, between them, their teachers, and their families. They are all so grateful for the extra help that staff has to offer. Students have taken more ownership and now view their own learning differently as they have become more confident and know that they can be successful. -Lindsey Kavallar, Instructor for Biological Sciences & PLTW Principles of Biomedical Sciences
It’s important to note team efforts are making a difference. Results from the first semester of the school year show that 84 percent of PVHS 9th graders supported by the NGS teams improved failing grades, turned in missing assignments and were back “On-track” at the end of the semester. Ninth graders are “On-track” to graduate if they are accruing the credits they need to progress to 10th grade and have no more than one course failure.
In talking with NGS team members, it is apparent they have special qualities and skill sets to effectively support 9th graders. I asked the team what it takes to be effective, they frequently mentioned, creativity, persistence, open communication, listening to students, willingness to work together, partnering with parents, and allowing students multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. These qualities and skills contribute to a mindset, best described by two NGS Team Leads.
It takes a true belief that all kids can be successful, understanding that equal and equitable are not the same thing, teamwork, solution-oriented, compassion, and passion for students' success. -Jacquie Brown
Ninth grade success matters because it is the best way for schools to reach out to students before it is too late. We cannot continue to have students and young adults "slipping through the cracks" and not earning their education. By finding ways to help and connect with students that may be at risk, we are able to ensure better possibilities for their futures. -Lindsey Kavallar
Note: The Prairie View High School Freshman Academy Team received special recognition at the April 27, 2021, 27J School Board Meeting. The team includes Nicole Ramirez, Joelle Galceran, Jenny Baldoni, Chris Martinez, Kevin O'Brien, Jacquie Brown, Lora McCabe, Molly Whitaker, Monica Shattuck, Lindsey Kavallar, Mauna Mazzola, Sean Mallander, Nate Howard, Kelsey Estes, Joe Sabo, Tamra Lowe, Corissa LaPanse, Jose Cardona, Kristi Nistel, Delaney Burchfield, Rachel Bilardi, Gina Francalancia-Cancienne, Brooke VanderWeit, Dulce Herrera, Teresa Woolworth, and Mark Gonzales.