How do we help 9th graders thrive?

High School Success | 04/12/2019

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Director, Stand for Children Washington

I found myself in Vancouver, WA, earlier this year with a group of 30 educators. Our participants represented five high schools in the Evergreen Public Schools district, and we were gathered together for a one-day training on “Freshman Success” strategies. Habib Bangura, Stand for Children’s National Director of Freshman Success, led the day’s workshop and set the stage for our work.

In Washington, 1 in 5 kids will not graduate from high school. At Stand, we believe it is our collective responsibility to better serve the 20% of students who are not receiving a diploma. And the reality is that freshman year is the greatest predictor of high school success, even more so than a student’s race, poverty level, or test scores.

Before his current role with Stand, Habib worked in partnership with school leaders on the East Coast to support developing, implementing, and monitoring effective and coherent school improvement strategies. His insight and excitement about digging into the details of this work brought an infectious energy to the room

As an education advocacy organization, we are committed to elevating research-proven and data-based programming that works for kids. Our partnerships with schools in the Puget Sound, Spokane, Tacoma, and in rural districts like Lake Chelan, are where we observe and learn firsthand about what is working for students in our state. We are fortunate to also be part of a national network of Stand for Children organizations working in the field in 10 states and learning from each other how to amplify best practices on a policymaking level. At every turn, we are looking to identify and develop policies and support implementation of those policies that ensures every kid will graduate career and college ready.

As fierce advocates for Freshman Success strategies and the Ninth-Grade On Track approach (a program that the Seattle Times enthusiastically endorsed just yesterday), this type of no-cost professional development for educators is how we ensure that the education policy we advocate for is more than just a line in a bill. Throughout this month, I’m going to publish a series of blogs that dive into the details of what we discussed in the Evergreen workshop with Habib.

Freshman Success strategies are best understood in basic chunks: why, who, and how. In Part I, we’ll look at why we know it’s important for 9th graders to be successful. In Part II, we’ll talk about who is involved and in Part III, we’ll look at how we do it. Although we discussed a lot of information in Vancouver, it all focused on providing an answer to the same question: “How can my school become a place where all 9th graders thrive?”

I hope you’ll stay tuned in – after these long weeks of fighting for proven education policies during the legislative session, I’m eager to share more of the details.

This is the introduction to a blog series about Freshman On-Track strategies in Washington. You can view the Part I: "Does freshman year matter?" here.

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