Helping High School Freshmen Succeed

By Christopher Hill

How can we improve our high school success rate? Like many school leaders across the United States, our leadership team continually posed that question.

High school completion was a recurring theme at faculty meetings, administrative cabinet meetings, and during any school improvement conversation in New York’s Westmoreland Central School District. Our graduation rate was good, but we simply couldn’t put a finger on the reasons a student ended up dropping out.

The typical culprits always seemed to surface -- low socioeconomic status, lack of parental support, learning difficulties, and a turbulent home life among them. But we had some issues with those explanations because, first, we had no control over those causes. How could we address issues that students brought with them to school? And second, how do we explain the students who are resilient, who graduate on time despite exhibiting the same factors that cause others to drop out?

As our focus turned to answering these questions, we started looking at our resilient students. We talked to the kids and looked at every piece of data we had collected about them over the years. What made them succeed when their similarly challenged peers didn’t make it?

We found our answer in two places and developed a solution that, while not unique, has been in place for two-plus years with great success. Most important, it’s making a difference in the lives -- and, ultimately, the graduation rates -- of our students.

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