Who is responsible for freshman success?

High School Success, Teachers & Principals | 04/30/2019

Katie Gustainis
Marketing & Communications Director, Stand for Children Washington

“Adults, what you need to remember about getting through high school is that it’s crazy.”

Sabina Akiu is a high school senior in Spokane, and she recently gave some strong advice to the adults surrounding students like her during the pivotal and chaotic high school years: “Be patient. There is a huge mix of grades, tests, homework, sports, and heartbreak,” she said. “The high school journey is confusing.”

The overwhelming nature of the high school experience was central to our mid-day conversation at the workshop we hosted earlier this year for 30 Evergreen Public Schools educators and administrators. Stand for Children’s Director of Implementation and Continuous Improvement, Habib Bangura, presented research that further illustrated Sabina’s experience: as they enter their teens, students are facing the beginning of a massive brain restructuring, a surge of hormones, a growing body, and the development of their identity and understanding of their role in society.

In the first blog post of this series, I discussed how freshman year matters and why it’s such an effective intervention point for students. In the Freshman Success workshop we hosted with Habib and Evergreen, our discussion turned to the teams who do the intervening. He answered the question: who is responsible for freshman success in a high school building?

The research, once again, has answers. School climate surveys make it clear that schools with a high level of teacher-student trust have fewer course failures and fewer absences (University of Chicago).

So, how do we cultivate a culture of trust? The responsibility for school building climate starts with leadership, so having the investment of a school principal and associate principals is key. Building a culture of success, Habib explained, starts with recognizing that relationships are critical, having high and future-minded expectations of students, and creating opportunities for students to demonstrate success.

Source: https://highschoolsuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Freshman-Succes...

Freshman Success Teams

A core premise of the Freshman Success Framework - as outlined above by the Network for College Success - is that the people who most influence and have access to a freshman’s school life should all be in the same room at a consistent frequency. This group should include:

  • Freshman core content teachers
  • Student support personnel (counselors, social workers)
  • Freshman deans or student advocates
  • Data technician leads
  • School principal/associate principal

NCS and the University of Chicago’s research are clear about the purpose of this team: to use their time wisely and get on the same page about the kids who need their support. That’s why designating a Team Lead is essential. This person acts as an anchor to develop an action-oriented agenda, set team norms, and facilitate productive, problem-solving discussion.

In the room with Habib and I at this workshop were a mix of principals, counselors, and teachers from Evergreen Public Schools. It felt good to be together, the exact folks who will be on the front lines for kids during a volatile time in their growth.

An additional motivation for us at Stand for Children is that Washington is ranked near the bottom when it comes to graduation rates in our country (we’re #44). We live here, we work here, and we believe that our state can do better. The policies we pursue are driven by this belief, and our work in Olympia thrives because of the parents and educators who are standing with us to ensure every kid graduates prepared for college or career or both.

We are in the right place at the right time. Focusing on practical and proven interventions is the path forward to supporting every student in Washington. In the final part of this series, I’m excited to dig into how to build freshman up and how we can better help them achieve their dreams.

This blog is part of a series about Freshman On-Track strategies in Washington. You can view the introduction here and part I here.

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