Whole Child in the News: The Importance of Freshman Year
A Portland, Ore., study of the city's high school class of 2004 found that 47 percent of the students dropped out before earning their diplomas and just 21 percent of the city's students who finished 9th grade with five credits or fewer eventually earned a diploma. As a result, Portland spent $1.25 million during the 2007–08 school year on extra help for the 9th graders identified as most likely to struggle. Unfortunately, the effort wasn't too successful; half the students targeted for the assistance failed three or more classes that year.
The Oregonian followed three Portland freshmen over the course of this school year to find out whether the city's redoubled efforts to support struggling 9th graders had an impact.
Sam Steadman dug herself into an early hole by smoking pot and ditching class, but summer school and intensive support classes helped her refocus and ultimately gain two years of reading knowledge and skills. Ivan Haskins-Murphy had trouble paying attention in class but after taking up boxing and eating healthier, he became more focused. Elmer Ayala switched schools midyear; the shorter commute and a supportive new counselor were positive changes.
Some common themes emerged from the three students' stories:
- Personalized instruction and attention works. Knowing that at least one adult in the school cares can make a huge difference.
- Good teachers who are committed, care, and challenge their students are key.
- Relevance is a must. When a kid sees how his A in sports medicine translates into a possible future career as a vet technician, for example, he has a tangible goal to work toward.
- A student's health, family support, and even seemingly minor external factors like the length of a school commute profoundly matter.
What strategies is your school using to support students who have fallen behind? Is the emphasis on drill and kill catch-up, or do the efforts reflect a whole child approach?