Successes from the Field: Building Relationships with Students

High school students listening to lecture in a classroom

“How Are You Building Relationships with Your 9th Graders?”

Centralia High School does a personalized pathway [PPR] series of meetings with all incoming 9th graders in August. We set up a full paid week of twenty minute appointments with a counselor/parent/student. The five of us go over goals, plans, three flex credit options, high school credits, grad requirements, transitions to high school, career goals, career interests, college-bound scholarships and more. We have power points, invites, and bi-lingual support to help students and parents.

We have had an overwhelmingly positive response from parents when invited by us personally to a counselor/student/parent meeting.

Jim Parker, Counselor, Centralia High School

In the spring of 2017 Blaine High School was looking for ways to connect with our students in a way that would make them feel more comfortable, safe at school and enjoy school more. We developed the BUILD (Building Unity in Learning Determination) Advisory program where students meet with the same advisor every day for 1/2 hour. Our intention was to connect a small group of students, 15–18 with a caring adult. The schedule entails:

  • Monday- Grade Check and discussion of weekly plan with advisors
  • Tuesday- Team tutorials 1 which may have students going to Math or needed teacher to work in collaboration with other students/staff on school work in a different advisory
  • Wednesday- Career and 13th year planning, WOIS, college speakers and presentations, Ted Talks etc.
  • Thursday- Team tutorials 2
  • Friday- Club/Activity- We went from 9 clubs to 24 to allow students access to activities where they might connect with their peers who have similar interests

Highly capable students (REACH) have a common advisor in each grade and opportunities to work at an accelerated level.

We had a very successful 1st year but thought we could do more for our incoming 9th grade students earlier. We instituted the LINK program in the Fall of 2018 and had great success welcoming our 9th graders before school opened. This increased our school spirit tremendously and reduced the anxiety of our youngest students.

As principal, I have seen A SIGNIFICANT improvement in our school culture with these two programs. Kids have a way to connect with adults and students in ways that they did not in the past.

Scott Ellis, Principal, Blaine High School

At Kentlake High School, we do a 9th grade “retreat” at the beginning of the year. We have all 9th graders go to a pep assembly where they are introduced to office staff, security, student services and administration. Our leadership and link crew members do fun activities like teaching the fight song, pancake eating contests and competitions to get the morning started. Then the 9th graders break into groups of 20, where they make their way through different parts the building to do team building exercises. One of the exercises is to take a class pledge to get to graduation and post secondary training and they all sign a “Class of…..” sign that is presented to them at the Moving Up Assembly their senior year. They all get a class t-shirt at the end of the day as well.

We also have an EWIS (Early Warning Indicator System) Team that works with struggling students in all grade levels. This helps catch 9th graders early when there is a better chance of getting them back on track.

Lisa McGraw, Counselor, Kentlake High School

We have 8th graders tour during the school day with mentor students each March, we provide high school forecasting support, and we have an open house for incoming 9th grade students and parents in March of the 8th grader year. We have a Freshmen only half-day with 10–12th grade peer mentors before the first day of school and I send a postcard to each 9th grader/ guardians welcoming them and giving them my contact information. Each Freshmen gets a classroom lesson with a counselor by the first 6 weeks of school and each freshmen is assigned a peer mentor who provides a classroom lesson during advisory every three weeks for the first 4 months of the year. Counselors use data to intervene with attendance, discipline and grade risk-factors.

Dawn Pack, Counselor, Battle Ground High School

At Onalaska High School, we are building relationships with our 9th-grade students through courses and positive interactions. 9th-grade students are required to take Freshman Focus a class designed to help students transition into high school. The class covers topics from intercultural competence to leadership. Our students have started their high school and beyond plans on My School Data and fully understand the importance of staying on track because of it. Along with this, the 9th-grade students set SMART goals both short-term and long-term as well. For the student body, I have incorporated a program called the Passport Challenge to build positive school community and culture. This challenge promotes mentorship and collaborative opportunities for all students. One-third of the student body signed up for the first challenge, while many others are asking to join after they’ve seen the results. In addition, our high school has incorporated an Academic Overtime in the daily schedule to get support in classes and to attend school-wide clubs. Living in a rural community, students have fewer options to extracurriculars beyond sports.

Terri Dalsted, Counselor, Onalaska High School

During the early spring and again later in the spring, I personally go to each of our feeder middle schools and speak to the 8th graders. Generally I keep the same message, explaining that there is nothing worse than watching an 18 year old realize they aren’t going to graduate with their peers. We also have an 8th grade visitation, as well as an 8th grade open house. The open house has turned into a quite a spectacle, with all of our programs on display and hundreds of our current students promoting their programs and connecting with 8th graders.

Finally, the day prior to the first day of school we have around 60 of our upperclassmen spend a few hours talking to the incoming freshmen in small groups, leading tours, and answering any questions.

The relationship building is our strongest asset in easing the transition. We want the students to know there is nothing to be afraid of. Quite honestly the best strategy is to make sure we have relationship-skilled adults in as many positions as possible. When students/parents meet our security officers, our office staff, our custodians, and our administration, they recognize that we are a building that thrives on our connections to students. When they finally get themselves in front of our teachers, they recognize the same thing.

Every 3 weeks we have what we call Nesting meetings, where we look at Attendance, Behavior, and Academic data. From this data we divide our students into 3 tiers, providing specific support for each group. We have a full-time teacher who teaches what we call Falcon Core, a support class for freshmen (as well as upperclassmen) based on previous semester’s data.

We also have a classified staff member dedicated to support academic success for students. This person is a kid magnet who determines the obstacles that exist between the student and his/her own academic success.

Finally, we have predetermined responses at each of the 3-weeks. For example, at the 9-week mark we are sending a letter home to all students families informing them of the courses they are failing (this isn’t our first contact, but it is a mass contact to everyone). At the 12-week mark, teachers inform admin/counselors of students who are unable to pass the class. We can then look at ways for freshmen to make up the credit in real-time, if possible, via online avenues.

Travis Drake, Principal, Prairie High School

Auburn High School is a Title 1 school with a rapidly growing ELL population (almost 300 of our 1725 students) and a high level of low-income families (60%) and I believe we are doing some really great things. Because we know that success during the freshman year is key to high school success and on-time graduation, we have implemented the following programs to increase freshman credit attainment, social success, and a sense of belonging to our school:

  • Capturing Kids’ Hearts — This is our Tier 1 classroom pro-social behavior management system. 120 of our staff members have gone through the two day intensive training and are now practicing door greets, good news, social contracts, and positive launches at the end of each period to help our students cope with the stresses of high school. This is something we are doing for all students. The results have been that our negative behaviors and supportive actions have decreased by 50% from one year ago (over 3,600 down to about 1,800). We are fortifying our efforts with this program by offering extended training to 15 of our teachers who will be our school’s CKH Champions to help our admin team with fidelity and sustainability.
  • 9th Grade Houses — About 90% of our 9th graders have the support of a team of three teachers in core areas. Each team features between 60 and 90 students who are supported with a team of three teachers, a house administrator and house counselor. Most of our students are thriving in these settings and the adult team runs a weekly meeting to figure out the best steps for working with Tier 2 students with the goal of getting them back to passing all classes and behaving up. This is our first year and so far we are liking the structure and the results. As an addition, our TROY (Link) Crew students are able to support their younger peers with tutoring and social support.
  • TROY Time — This is our version of Tier 2 academic intervention during the school day. On every T-W-Th-F we have 30 minute period to help all students with their high school and beyond plan, our PBIS school-wide behavior lessons, and with academic supports/interventions. This year our standard is a C- (70%) grade in order for a student, not passing, to move out of an academic intervention. For our 9th graders, they do their TROY Time with their House teachers and also have the ability to work with teachers from the rest of their schedule as needed. Our students earn a .5 credit each year for the high school and beyond plan.
  • Extended Day Tutoring — Every Monday through Thursday we run an after school-tutoring program in our school library from 2:45 to 4:30 and is supported with transportation. This is an opt-in program that we started last year and has helped our students attain more credits. Currently, we are working on an assigned-to-attend component for students who are not getting exactly what they need in our TROY Time interventions. Future plans also include a Freshman Lunch Time Study Table (Spring Semester) that will be assigned by counselors.

Besides a decrease in discipline, an increase in passing grades this year we are also seeing an improvement in overall school attendance as we are about 3–4% higher than we were a year ago at the same point in time for all grades.

Jeff Gardner, Principal, Auburn High School

The first program is actually referred to as Freshmen Success. It was designed to assist with the initial relationship building between school staff, administration, and students. The themes of this program are:

  • Focusing on the district promise to know every student by name, strength and need
  • Supporting with natural classroom management
  • Creating opportunities for peer mentor training opportunities
  • Establishment of good character and positive school climate
  • Developing a common mindset of excellence and ethics
  • Teambuilding, positive relationship development, and the idea of grit.

Each school comes within the first 40 days of school for an extended day, and depending on the school size comes to camp over a series of 1–3 days. When they arrive, groups are most commonly split off by advisory and do two parts to their day. The first part is experiential low ropes course activities led by our Waskowitz staff. The second part is a three way rotation led by counselors, success deans, and advisories collaboratively with Waskowitz staff.

Here is an excerpt from an email received by a staff member after their groups stay:

“I just wanted to say how amazing things went these past few days at Waskowitz. The model that Johnny and his staff developed really provided an enriching and fun experience for our students and the adults. I thought that rotating them from the challenge course to the problem solving activities and small group discussions had a very positive impact on the students. They didn’t seem preoccupied or bored. Students bonded with their teachers in a real way and they seemed really connected to one another in a more authentic way than I’ve seen in the past. I think they will return to school feeling empowered and more confident than before.”

Jay Upshaw, Dean, Mt. Rainer High School

In addition, another program we run is a credit recovery program available to any freshman who has failed ELA their first semester. Literacy Camp is designed to provide students in 9th the opportunity to earn 0.5 credit in Language Art. This program is available to any Highline Public Schools student. Students are selected by their success team/counselors at their schools. This program serves as a collaboration between the Waskowitz staff, and each of the compressive high schools. Students are mentored by high school seniors, recent graduates, college students, and Americorps volunteers.

Basic activities include:

  • Group/individual reading and completion of instructor-selected novel.
  • Journal writing and reflections.
  • Homework assignments in addition to the work assigned at school.
  • Group projects, including poster design, essay and presentation.
  • Personal narrative outline and fully composed piece
  • Team-building challenges and activities.
  • Self-discovery as a student and community member.
  • Personal slam poetry piece, written and performed.

In this Spring Break, weeklong course, students explore topics through reading, discussion, debate and research. Students keep a writer’s journal and write papers that demonstrate their depth of understanding about the topic and their ability to communicate to a variety of audiences about the topic. The course culminates in a poetry slam/open mic experience where students present their topic to other students and staff invited from their homeschools

Students travel by bus from their high school to Camp Waskowitz in North Bend, where they stay overnight during Spring Break. Funded by district initiatives, this course is free for students and includes all meals. Students will earn a 0.5 credit in Language Arts if they attend and complete the coursework during their stay.

Johnny Gannaw III, Assistant Director/Resident Manager, C A M P W A S K O W I T Z, Highline School District