'The Extra Mile'
Above: Enloe teacher Ray Samuels, Dean of Students Patty Miller and academic coach Kelley Schroeder analyze data to learn which students need extra help to graduate
Sept. 1, 2016
Alicia Kirkpatrick remembers them all, the Enloe students who’d once been lost.
There was the student who had no choice but to work a full-time job; the student battling emotional distress; the student who’d fallen far behind and lost hope; the student who just didn’t see the point of school.
They may have been lost at one point last school year. But Kirkpatrick and her fellow school counselors at Enloe Magnet High School went out and found them.
Sometimes that took persistent phone calls home. Sometimes it took driving to a student’s house and knocking on the door. “In all those cases, we were able to get the student back in here, and they all graduated,” Kirkpatrick says.
“Sometimes, you've got to make that hard decision to go the extra mile.”
The hard work at Enloe paid off in a much higher graduation rate in 2016 – 89%, up 7.4 percentage points from the year before. Sanderson High School also had a dramatic rate increase of 7.7 percentage points, up to 89.1%.
Overall the district’s graduation rate went up 1 percentage point to 87.1%. Half of our 26 high schools now have a graduation rate higher than 90%, while 18 showed gains in 2016.
But the biggest payoff went to the graduates themselves. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that high school dropouts bring in just $20,241 annually, $10,000 less than high school graduates and $36,000 less than those with a bachelor’s degree.
Above: Members of the Sanderson Class of 2016
‘Save Our Seniors’
At both Enloe and Sanderson, counselors analyzed student data – grades, test scores, attendance, etc. – to identify students who needed extra help. That led to the outreach efforts.
At Sanderson, it was dubbed “Save Our Seniors.” An SOS Committee – made up of administrators, counselors and teachers – divvied up the students and became their mentors, checking in with them at least a few times a week and keeping in close contact with parents.
“We’d call and say, ‘Hey, Ronald is not doing well in his civics class, he needs it to graduate, here's what we want to do, we need to know that you're agreeing to it and that Ronald is going to agree to it,’” says Leandra Carpino, dean of counseling and student services at Sanderson. “The parents most of the time, were like, ‘Well, heck yeah. We've already ordered the cap and the gown.’”
‘Step up to the plate’
Enloe took a very similar approach, says school counselor Patty Miller.
At both schools, online courses called GradPoint were a critical tool in helping students catch up.
Both Miller and Carpino emphasize that GradPoint is not an easy alternative. It requires students to demonstrate mastery of the subject as well as show initiative by completing coursework during lunch and while away from school.
“I was happy to see students step up to the plate,” Miller says. “It gave them a good sense of accomplishment and success. Our goal is not to penalize students. Our goal is to make sure they have mastery of the content.”
Carpino adds, “You have to give students every opportunity, but you have to do it with integrity. You can't just give them the grade. They still have to do the work.”
‘Ninth grade counts’
Counselors at both schools are rightfully proud of helping so many seniors cross the finish line.
Their focus now is identifying those students sooner who may struggle and be at risk to drop out, starting in ninth grade.
Enloe has started orientations for all grade levels.
That’s particularly important for ninth graders, as the jump from middle to high school can be a big one, says Kirkpatrick, the Enloe counselor.
“We stress that ninth grade counts,” she says. “We tell students, ‘If these were your grades at the end of the year, do you think you would be able to be a sophomore? Are you on track for college or the military or whatever your path may be?’”
Both schools employ a bit of positive peer pressure to help motivate students. “The opportunity to stay caught up with their peers, that's everything to them,” Carpino says. “You don’t want to be heading into what should be your sophomore year with a ‘9’ on your schedule. That's a pretty big dent to the ego for these kids.”
Sanderson has started a study skills class for ninth graders, another way to help them make the jump to high school.
At Enloe, ninth graders are encouraged to get involved in extracurricular activities such as band, clubs or sports.
“It's a time balance, yes, but it's also a motivator,” Kirkpatrick says. “When you create a connection, you have peer resources that also become supports. And we want our students to have the pride to be at Enloe, to be an Eagle. We've always had school pride, but we want to bring it into the halls and not just at sporting events."
Right: Samuels, Shroeder and Miller with new Enloe Principal Will Chavis
‘We got you’
More than anything, Kirkpatrick says, teachers, counselors and administrators need to keep the “love” in “tough love.”
Yes, it’s important for students to learn responsibility and self-reliance. But often their life circumstances require them to get a helping hand first.
“When you see the world these students come from, it's so different from what most of us experience, and it's so difficult,” she says. “Some of them are full-time caretakers, or full-time employees. Some of them are homeless or have to deal with abuse or food insecurity. So you have to remind them, ‘We got you, we have your back, and you can do this.’”
By the numbers
2016 graduation rate: 87.1%
2015 graduation rate: 86.1%
Improvement: 1 percentage point
State average graduation rate: 85.8%
2016 graduation rate: 89%
2015 graduation rate: 81.6%
Improvement: 7.4 percentage points
Seniors in danger of not graduating: 135
Number who graduated on time: 120
2016 graduation rate: 89.1%
2015 graduation rate: 81.4%
Improvement: 7.7 percentage points
Seniors in danger of not graduating: 50
Number who graduated on time: 45