A Saturday Success Academy To Reduce 9th Grade Retentions

By James MacGregor In July 2008 the School District of Osceola County was informed by the U.S. Department of Education that the I-Step Grant proposal for $1,200.000 had been accepted. It was to provide a three year support project for the purpose of improving 9th grade success. Ultimately the long term intent is to improve graduation rates. The first three Saturdays would be held at One of the really surprising aspects about the zoned school with the final session experiencing the Saturday Academies was being held at the local community college. the change in attitudes by the different publics From the school administration Doubtful about continued participation for 4 weeks. That teachers would not want tp participate on a Saturday morning. That the kids would not like it. The goal of this specific initiative is to create a positive and meaningful event for students and parents that would require very little funding in order for it to be replicated as an orientation event at each high school. The big surprise that was encountered involved teacher attitudes. Teachers, coaches, club sponsors etc. were willing to participate without any remuneration. Funding for staff salaries was available during this first year due to the availabilities of the grant dollars. Each of the four I-Step counselors had the responsibility for recruiting at-risk students and parents for the initiative. Because this was a brand new initiative the recruiting phase was often a one on one recruitment with student and parent.

There was no standardized program required at each school but there were several expectations that were to be met at every site. The following list summarizes activities that were offered at all four sites. At the national level and at the local level 1. All students and parents reviewed the in Osceola county it has become increasParent Internet Viewer to check curingly evident that change was needed in rent grades and assignments. order to improve 9th grade success and the graduation rate. Osceola County has a 2. All students and parents were given a rapidly increasing Hispanic student popuschool tour led by current high school lation. Some national research rates the students. Hispanic graduation rate below 60%. The 3. All sites were offered academic engraduation rate in Osceola County is at richment activities by current high 67%. school teachers. 4. All sites explained elective offerings This project provides for five additional in detail and one site required students counselors to work with at-risk 8th and 9th to rotate through every technical ofgrade students. In this first year of the fering. grant the majority of the time will be spent 5. All schools provided orientations to with 8th graders. During the second and athletics, performing arts, and club third year of the grant these counselors will work with both 8th and 9th grade stuofferings. dents. There were several very revealing quotes that need to be shared. The goal of the grant is to improve 8th and By an assistant principal 9th grade retention rates by 25%. In order to achieve this goal systemic changes will “How can we do this for all 600 of our incoming 9th grades” need to occur at both the middle school and the high school level. By a longtime school observer. This article will only describe one of the initiatives that is intended to improve 9th grade retention. “These students well know more about school opportunities than most 10th and 11th graders.” By a parent whose other son will be a senior, as she was taking the school tour said “I have had a son here at this school for two years and I have only seen the football stadium and the Guidance Office” “What wonderful opportunities”

A Saturday Success Academy was written into the grant because a similar program was an important part of the Equity 2000 project that was sponsored by the College Board. The theory behind the Saturday Academy is that in many instances the students and parents do not understand the high school requirements, the high school offering (both academic and extracurricular) and the support systems that are in place. A parent or a significant adult was expected to attend the first and the fourth Saturday

Saturday Success Academy - Melissa Cooper

Ms. Camp, SCHS Teacher of the Year, and Physical Science teacher had a fun and academic lessons in her science room. The As an ISTEP counselor one of the most chal- 8th graders were allowed to perform a lenging aspects of our position is working scientific experiment with an advanced collaboratively with schools. We visit five hand held computer measuring device. very different schools one day weekly and They could test the temperature of any two the limited amount of time spent with each objects and had to record their data. She school can negatively affect working toalso discussed the importance of maintaingether. While creating and working on the ing grades and how to pass the science Saturday Success Academy project with Poinciana High School, I found that collabo- classes. ration and support came without question. It is amazing what can be done when people Ms. Bell, an English teacher had a wonwork together toward a goal. Our goal in this derful lesson that was academic and th adventure was allowing incoming 9 grade geared toward personal/social for new at risk students to get a hands on intimate high schoolers. They read along while a view at what they will experience in high song was being played that was about school and begin making connections with finding your path and acceptance of yourteachers, staff, and other students. self. She also had poetry and discussed Day one was an informational session and each line and the students had to say what campus tour, day two academic focus, day three involved vocational programs, and day each sentence meant line by line. She was four was a wrap up and focused on the future amazing in describing her experiences and feelings from middle school throughout at Valencia Community College. I was imhigh school. The room was so silent as pressed by the willingness by everyone to each student listened to her personal story. participate in this event. The principal and assistant principal attended every session at The students also learned more about makPHS. Deans, athletics, ROTC, Cheerleading, ing "right choices" for yourself and to be Drama, Guidance Counselors were actively accepting of who you are regardless of involved in the process. I had 10 teachers peer pressures. volunteer to participate and over 30 student volunteers give their time, energy, and encouragement to these 26 students. The Ms. Peterson, Social Worker, did a wonschedules were full and informative, fun derful and creative lesson on "what are activities were planned, and the students your dreams and goals?" The students beenjoyed each day. I don’t think it could have gan to realize they have dreams but need run more perfectly. to complete short term and middle tasks/ Without question the relationships that were goals to reach their dreams. developed these four Saturdays will help these students feel a connection to the Ms. Hart, District Counselor, had a super school, the staff, and to each other. I personlesson with a time line that brought about ally witnessed friendships being formed, bonding of these students from different passion for learning growing within, and a schools and backgrounds. It helped them budding excitement about the experiences to realize everyone including the adults in that await them at Poinciana High School. I the room have lived in different places and was continually asked questions like, “When had to adapt to change with positive and some negatives along the way. Also, it was can we do this again?” or “How could we make this program for everyone?” or “I wish amazing to see each student talk in front of there was something like this when I was in each other and share their personal stories. 9th grade”. This experience helped me realize Overall, these students have absorbed knowledge that will help them feel more that unless our students feel connected to the comfortable and less stressed with all their high school and feel that they have purpose "new" high school experiences to come. and a place there, little work gets done. I look forward to seeing what these students will accomplish next year. We planted seeds, and I cannot wait to see how big they grow.

In order to provide greater insight into what occurred at these sites there is a brief write up by each of the four counselors.

Saturday Success Academy –Debbie Ingrassia

Saturday Success Academy -Karen Leininger The Saturday Success Academy at Liberty High School was an incredibly rewarding experience. 26 students were served, with 20 students attending 3 or more sessions, and over half attending all four sessions. I was continually impressed by the enthusiastic staff and student presentations each week, including but not limited to: the academic enrichment activities facilitated by our 9th grade teachers, LHS Athletics, ROTC, Cheerleaders, Band, Chorus, Drama, Dance Team, Robotics Club, NHS, TV Production and many more. I truly believe that these 8th graders are better equipped for high school success as a result of the things they learned and the relationships they built in this program. They have made valuable connections to LHS that will inspire them to invest in their future there. 100% of the students stated that they feel more prepared for high school as a result of the program, and that they would recommend the program to other students. Several of them stated that they realize now how important academic success in their freshman year is. Overall, the Academies were a positive experience, and I learned a great deal about leadership, delegating and efficiency. I can’t wait for next year—it’s going to get better and better!

Saturday Success Academy—Michele Reed Each week, I was impressed by the dedication and support of the staff members and administration at Harmony High School. Everyone pitched in and did their part without even expecting compensation for their extra work. We had staff members from many electives and academic subjects, as well as counselors and coaches come out and speak to students about courses to take, clubs, extracurricular activities, and sports. Presentations were very interactive and the students thoroughly enjoyed themselves during the various activities. Upperclassmen were recruited as mentors and gave individual tours to the incoming Freshmen. I feel that we offered a comprehensive program that touched on all that Harmony has to offer. It should be mentioned in closing that this initiative has exceeded all expectations. Students parents and school staffs have all been very enthusiastic about the Saturday Academies. In this first year we wanted to limit participation to no more than 30 students from each high school site. Actually we have had over 120 different student participants for the four week program. Total participation was just about 200 persons. The student persistence rate has been outstanding throughout the four week program. The results of the parent survey is shown below. The attitudes expressed in the survey exceeded all expectations. Jim MacGregor is the I-Step Project Lead Counselor in Osceola county. He can be reached at macgregj@osceola.k12.fl.us

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