When a student drops out of high school, districts are required to report a reason why. But out of the 16,000 Washington students who stopped showing up to school in 2016, almost half of them were marked as dropping out for an “unknown” reason. Where did they go, and why doesn’t anyone know why they left?
Highline School District in Burien, Washington approached their dropout problem with an emphasis on the need for more student support, instead of the need for more discipline. For many students, often all they need is for one person to dig in to the root cause of what is preventing them from having the opportunity to be actively engaged. Evan Barbour was hired as a “Student Success Dean” at Tyee High School in the Highline School District as part of their program that was started just over 4 years ago. Since starting his work with students, Evan firmly believes that “behind every behavior there is a legitimate need.”
At Highline, Student Success Deans are individuals that are typically hired from the community to be a part of the student support team inside schools. They act as a “buffer” between teachers and students. One of the many benefits of Student Success Deans is that they help students with tutoring resources if they notice that a student is failing or not performing well in a certain subject. They can also use their knowledge of the student’s strengths and challenges in certain subjects to work with them and prepare for the next level of rigorous courses. Ultimately, they work to improve the student’s overall classroom and learning experiences by advocating on their behalf and working directly with teachers if they are having challenges inside or outside the classroom.
The Student Success Dean approach centers on the idea that students need more individual attention from non-teacher school staff to find their personal roadmap to success. “We are successful at our job when we work in concert with the classroom teacher and our other amazing support staff (counselors, social workers, admin, success coaches) to identify what the need of the student is," says Barbour, “and how we can empower that student to choose to make small, impactful daily changes in how they approach their school experience.”
Having more individuals like Evan in schools, connecting with students, inspiring and encouraging them to be their best selves makes all the difference in how they experience learning in the classroom. In essence, the Student Success Dean acts more as a “hype man” and mentor because their primary goal is to address the unmet needs students have in order to get them to graduation and prepared for life after high school.
For Student Success Deans, teachers, counselors and administrators to track which students might need additional support, an Early Warning Data System (EWDS) is a critical tool for student success. An EWDS keeps track of a student’s attendance, behavior challenges, and course performance (also known as the ABC’s). The system is intended to identify any challenges that may act as barriers that could prevent students from graduating. The most important part of an effective Early Warning Data System, however, is having a team in place to address the challenges and needs of students once the system has indicated that where they are. The primary purpose of an EWDS is to serve the whole student, inside and outside of the classroom. Student Success Deans allow this to be possible. They bring the human touch that the data needs. They take the information from the student information system (academic progress, attendance, disciplinary incidences) and then follow up with the student.
Like many students in struggling communities that have no choice but to attend significantly underfunded public schools, I also thrived on the dream of breaking the cycle of generational poverty. And I have. When I took a chance and applied to the Gates Millennium Scholarship, it was the process of engaging and believing in my passion for writing that changed my life. Having mentors and people around me to ensure that I would not disengage from school is why having more people like Student Success Deans could make all the difference for students. There are certain challenges that students have throughout their educational journey that have the power to change the trajectory of their lives. Early Waring Data Systems and Student Success Deans are Highline’s approach to ensuring that all students come out on top.
For 150 freshman students at Tyee, Evan Barbour is their hype man. He works closely with Tyee's second Student Success Dean, Valerie Anderson, to identify the best strategies for helping students succeed. Evan believes the roles he and Valerie hold come with a wide range of responsibilities. “I am many things at many different times to many different students. Whether it is a cheerleader, a listener, an investigator, a partner, an authority, a comedian, you name it! Whatever it takes! Every student is different.” Evan Barbour inspires me through his dedication and passion for the students he works with. With his support, and the support of others like him, I can hope that one day every student in Washington will make it to graduation feeling challenged and excited about the possibility of achieving their dreams.