Friday, November 23, 2007

Working With At-Risk Freshmen

Here's a school doing what everyone admits works regarding underachieving students--a mentoring program.

Between youth football practice, caring for younger siblings and a healthy dose of scholastic apathy, Graham wasn't exactly excelling academically.

But he's not alone. Graham is part of Team Husky, a mentoring program at Sheldon with 252 mostly at-risk freshmen.

And Grivel is one of 60 staff members who mentor them. More than a dozen upperclassmen are part of the program, too – each assigned a few freshmen to look after.

Freshmen who had earned a 2.5 grade-point average or below while attending Smedburg Middle School, which feeds students into Sheldon, are automatically in Team Husky. So, too, are freshmen new to the district or those recommended for the program by teachers...

The effort to reach at-risk freshmen is critical, experts say. Poor performance freshman year doesn't bode well for the future.

"Kids who flunk ninth grade are really at risk of dropping out," said Russ Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project and professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's just finished a study about ninth-graders and graduation, to be published soon...

Grivel said higher expectations, more rigorous classes and serious consequences sometimes take freshmen by surprise.

He said some struggling freshmen became accustomed to social promotion in past schooling. Grivel asked the 50 students in last year's pilot program to raise their hands if they'd been told at some point they wouldn't pass a grade and were socially promoted, anyway.

"I think everyone raised their hand," he said. "They've heard it before, but this time we're actually telling them the truth."

Simple things, like having to do your homework to pass classes, are hard for them to wrap their heads around, Grivel said.

I concur with these observations and hope this program works. I've also forwarded the linked article to my own principal.

1 comment:

Ellen K said...

I would readily welcome such a program. I have thought for a long time that too many ninth graders are simply lost in the megasized high schools that are favored these days. I am looking forward to a ninth grade center being built next year for our feeders so perhaps we can prevent kids falling through the cracks. Part of the problem is that so many of these same students are focused on athletics and just athletics that they will perform just enough to pass during their playing seasons and then act up and act out the rest of the year. I have seen it happen time and again. And most of these same kids don't have a male parent in the home. It would be great to find kids willing to mentor younger kids, but first we have to somehow get their priorities switched around. I have talked about life after high school with many of my students and you would be shocked at how many juniors and seniors haven't even had an adult ask them what they plan to do. We have to teach these kids to set goals. And then we have to give them the skills to make it happen.