Elizabethtown program keeps students, parents and teachers on the right track
By Jennifer Wohlleb
When Elizabethtown High School hosts its annual Power Pact in the spring, it doesn’t matter what the conditions are, parents and students come in droves.
“Our attendance has remained consistently high (between 87 and 98 percent during its 15 year span) and we’ve had all kinds of weather; we’ve had tornadoes and snowstorms; every year there seems to be some kind of weather event going on,” said Bonnie Young, Elizabethtown Independent’s district-community liaison/career and technical education, who organizes the event.
PHOTO: Teacher Lisa Mudd, far right, works with incoming freshman Leikyn Walker, her mom and little sister, during the school’s Power Pact at the end of March. The program is a communication tool that keeps students on track and keeps parents involved.
The program sets up meetings between all incoming freshmen through juniors and their parents with a teacher at the school. They go over the student’s schedule, discuss career goals and paths, and make sure the student is on track.
“We don’t have school today, kids don’t have to be here, but we probably have better than 95 percent attendance,” said Superintendent Jon Ballard, during this year’s event, which was held March 27. “This is laying out a plan for their future. It’s the beginning of them deciding what pathways they might want to explore in high school. It’s always important to get parents involved and this is a good way to do that. They start thinking out their scheduling and not just what they are going to take next year, but what they are going to take in the next several years.”
The program began in 2001 through a U.S. Department of Education GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant administered by Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.
Kentucky Utilities has sponsored the event from the beginning and this year expanded it to Stone Middle School, something particularly helpful for the incoming sixth-graders. School board Chairman Matt Wyatt said he has been through Power Pact with his son at the high school, but said his younger son, who will be starting at the middle school, got some reassurance through the program this year.
“It was the chance to look through the hallways and get a feeling of it while having your parents there,” he said. “It really does help the transition, so his first day is going to be less traumatic.”
Elizabethtown High School Principal Steve Smallwood said he thinks Power Pact opens the lines of communication between the school and home.
“It allows parents to come in here on a day that we don’t have school to talk with a teacher advisor about their child’s future, here at our high school, and beyond our high school,” he said.
Smallwood said he also sees it as motivational.
“Yes, we’re still in this school year, but we’re talking about next school year and that gives them a purpose and a goal to achieve and strive for each year, and puts that vision in their head that they’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
How it works
Parents are mailed a postcard letting them know when Power Pact is and what time they are meeting with their teacher advisor. Incoming freshmen and their parents meet for about 20 minutes with their teacher in the commons area of the high school, while older students go to the teacher advisor’s classroom. Those meetings usually last about 10 minutes. Incoming students can take tours of the building, given by student council members, and they can also visit the resource area in the lobby, with representatives from colleges and community organizations.
Teachers go through a day of training earlier in the month to prepare them for the meetings.
They have scripts tailored to each grade level covering everything from graduation requirements and pre-college curriculum to course recommendations and transcripts. Each student and their parent fill out a course request sheet, where they list their requests in order of preference and also name a career pathway they are interested in following.
Jenny Oldham, the mother of two incoming freshmen, said her parents taught at the high school and her husband is a teacher there, but said everything looks a little different when it’s your children.
“It’s great to come back and get that one-on-one attention and feel like you can make some connections,” she said.
Lisa Addington has a unique perspective on Power Pact, both as a parent of two students at the high school and as the person who wrote the original GEAR UP grant when she worked at ETCT.
“It’s ingrained in the school, it’s just part of the system now, and that’s great to see,” she said. “It’s not an add-on, it’s just what happens here. And as a parent, you don’t feel so lost.”
Chairman Wyatt said it’s a great way to get parents involved.
“What I find is it’s not just talking about the schedule,” he said. “It’s hopefully an opportunity to let your guard down and maybe the teachers have their guards down and you can ask them some questions that you always wanted to ask, but maybe you didn’t want to pick up a phone and call a counselor or a teacher. It’s really the chance to ask questions.”
Business education teacher Janie Pennington said Power Pact helps start the conversation of what students want to do after graduation.
“I think they are more informed,” she said. “I think it helps them be more focused in their choices.”