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Middle and high school staff guide students to graduate in four years

Achieving some of Peoria Public Schools’ 2014-2015 priorities, like expanding middle school STEM labs and teaching Type To Learn, depend on accessing innovative, 21st century high-tech tools.

In contrast, achieving the goal of having every student graduate from high school in four years, depends on old-fashioned, face-to-face human interaction.  While District students are introduced to the general expectations of college and career from the primary grades, the momentum really picks up in middle schools.  Counselors and teachers track student progress closely and provide a variety of resources to help struggling students including before- and after-school tutoring. 


Schools also take advantage of community resources, says Sheri Lamie, Mark Bills Middle School counselor.  “We utilize community resources to provide additional help for our students.  Big Brother/Big Sister provides individual student mentoring and Goodwill Group Guides provides small group mentoring. We also have a ‘Girl Talk’ program which gives girls an opportunity weekly to discuss academics and social and emotional needs.


As students high school years draw closer, they have more chances to become acquainted with the high school principals and counselors and their expectations.  From 8th grade on, high school staff begin to develop one-on-one supportive relationships with students to keep them on track to graduation.

The road to high school graduation begins in late January of a student’s 8th grade year when they attend a High School Curriculum Fair at their home high school. Following that basic introduction and overview, in early spring, high school principals, teachers and counselors visit each District middle school for an orientation meeting. “The real conversations start when we go out to each of the middle schools,” explains Jared Lucas, Peoria High School counselor. The goal of these first meetings is to introduce students to the concept of class credits and semesters. For many students, these are new concepts and the necessity of planning one’s academic career four years in advance and maintaining passing grades from the beginning of freshman year onward can be daunting.
The conversation continues so that by their first day of high school, students and their parents have met with District staff at least three times. These planning opportunities also help students choose one of three pathways: College/University, Career Tech Prep or Career Diploma. Choosing the right option helps reduce the chance that students will fall behind in earning the 26 credits necessary for all students to graduate. The three pathways differ primarily in the amount of science, math, foreign language and elective credits each student takes. Further, students and parents must consider whether to pursue such special options as International Baccalaureate, the Preparatory School for the Arts or the Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC) Contemporary Learning Program.
Once high school begins, each District 150 high school has slightly different systems in place to track students’ progress throughout the four years. One similarity, however, is the use of the “academy” concept: keeping freshmen separate physically from the older student body for the first year. At Peoria High School, for example, freshmen students spend their days in one building wing for a majority of their classes. According to Lucas, this helps students adjust to the larger size of a high school student body and a high school building. It also gives teachers and counselors a year to become more closely acquainted to students and their needs.
Perhaps the most useful tool for high school staff in guiding freshmen is their advisory period. Once each week during advisory (also called Pride Time at Peoria High School) each student meets one-on-one with their advisory teacher. “Advisory serves a lot of important purposes for us. It is an opportunity for students to connect to an adult who can be their advocate,” says Lucas. Once each week, every student and their advisory teacher reviews data, including: attendance, grades and discipline. The data review keeps problems from building up. “For example, if a student is falling behind in a math class, the advisory teacher can immediately call the math teacher and arrange tutoring time to give the student extra help,” says Lucas. Advisory teachers also are proactive in communicating with parents on a regular basis, often calling the student’s home weekly to give parents an update on any obstacles the student may encounter.
Establishing regular communication with parents is another means of achieving the four-year-graduation goal, says Instructional Improvement Officer Revonda Johnson. “Many parents think that once students get to high school, they don’t need to monitor grades as much, so we have tried to change that. We are seeing more and more parents at the high school conferences,” says Johnson.
Despite these efforts, some students do fail classes and fall behind in building credits for graduation. For these students, Credit Recovery allows them to make up credits after school through the Compass Learning Online program. Credit Recovery does have disadvantages in that an “F” will still appear on a student’s transcript and may negatively affect a student’s college application, particularly in the case of a student athlete.
Occasionally, students face more serious obstacles which prevent them from attending school for a longer period. The Knoxville Center for Student Success Transition Back to High School Program allows students to re-enter school more slowly, making sure they have the appropriate tools, support and skills to successfully return to their home high school.
Though somewhat low-tech, personal attention and supportive relationships with counselors, advisory teachers and other school staff can be the key to helping students graduate in four years.