Innovative approach for struggling students

Innovative approach for struggling students

Innovative approach for struggling students

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2015

By Jennifer Wohlleb
Staff Writer
It’s not unusual for districts to encourage their highest-achieving students to take dual-credit classes. Covington Independent Schools is using this approach to help engage students who might otherwise be at risk for dropping out.

Through a grant from the national Gateway to College program out of Portland, Ore., Covington formed a partnership with Gateway Community and Technical College. (The Gateway name is coincidental.)

“We identify at-risk students who typically wouldn’t quality for dual-credit opportunities,” said Bill Grein, Covington’s district assessment coordinator. “They’re kids who are behind in credits, with a low GPA.”

Gateway is only 2 miles from Covington’s Holmes High School, so students take a city bus to and from the school. Students in the program spend the first two hours of their day at Gateway and then go back to Holmes for the rest of the school day.
 
PHOTO: Covington Independent Schools’ students who might have been at risk for dropping out instead are enrolled in a dual-credit college program at nearby Gateway Community and Technical College.

Gateway Program Director Heather Anderson, who is one of two counselors for the program, said it served 35 students last school year, with 28 successfully earning credits. She said 11 of those students graduated high school this past spring, with 10 of them planning to continue their education.

“We target those middle-of-the-range to the lower-end students who are either behind on credits, who have not benchmarked on the ACT, and have GPAs 2.0 or lower,” Anderson said. “We also take into account behavior issues and attendance issues and what their home life is like. And we have been able to engage those students and it has been a great first year. I’ve been a part of other grant-funded programs and sometimes the first year can be awful, just trying to get it off the ground. But we have just had a lot of success.”

She said when a new cohort begins, they are kept together as much as possible in classes such as Introduction to College, which is 3 credit hours, and a keyboarding class, which is an online class and helps them acclimate to different ways of learning. The students are limited to 4-6 college credit hours the first semester.

Using ACT Compass placements tests and discussing their interests, counselors help students select classes in the second semester that might speak more to their personal interests. “We’ve had them take everything from psychology and Spanish to automotive technology,” Anderson said.

She said they have seen student attitudes improve tremendously.

“I think some of them appreciated, and we told them from the very beginning, ‘When you are here, you are college students. You don’t have to raise your hand to go to the restroom, you just get up and go. But along with these benefits also comes responsibility,’” she said. “And we saw their self-esteem increase; we saw their communication skills improve. They carried themselves differently. You could tell they were proud to be a part of something bigger.”

Their attitudes even carried over to their time back at Holmes.

“Behavior referrals (of students in the fall cohort) decreased by 57 percent at the high school,” Anderson said. “They went from a combined total of 102 the previous year to 43 referrals last year. And really, of those 43 referrals, half were earned by one student.”

For the year, students earned 171 college credit hours, which Anderson said equates to $25,000 in college tuition. The average GPA was 2.22, beating the national 2.0 GPA average of the other Gateway to College programs.

The program will start this school year with at least 19 students enrolled.

Grein said there is enough grant money to get them through the fall semester and the district has set aside another $40,000 in general fund money to pay for the spring. “If we have a good second year here, we’ll do everything we can to sustain the program and keep it going forward,” he said.
  
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