Efforts to improve Newark’s grad rate go beyond academics

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NEWARK – Treven Crothers admits he hasn’t always made good choices.

The Newark High School 10th-grader has made poor choices at school and at home. He’s been to jail. But he’s making changes.

Treven is in Newark City Schools’ Academic Opportunity for Success program, referred to as AOS. The program works with students at Newark High School and the district’s three middle schools to overcome their hardships and make sure students graduate.

It’s just one of the dozens of ways Newark is trying to improve it’s four-year graduation rate, which was 81.3 percent for the 2015-16 school year, according to data released from the Ohio Department of Education on Thursday.

Even though Treven is two years away from graduating, he’s made it a goal to graduate on time. Something he’s not sure would happen without the high school AOS program and its coordinators, Terrell White and Kenya Black.

“These guys push me,” he said. “If I didn’t have these guys, I don’t think I’d have anybody to push me.”

Newark’s four-year graduation rate fluctuated between 68.2 percent and 78.1 percent for most of the 2000s. Since 2010 — when it was 68.2 percent — the rate had steadily increased. In the past school year, it dipped by four tenths of a point.

In the last few years, Newark has made an increased effort to improve the graduation rate because historically it has been a point of concern.

Ute said he was disappointed in the graduation rate and that it does’t accurately reflect all the district is doing to get students to finish school.

To increase the rate, Newark is doing more than just helping students academically.

“A lot of kids who don’t graduate are smart kids,” said district superintendent Doug Ute. “It’s social issues that impact (them).”

The district has prioritized helping students socially and emotionally by establishing numerous programs. A free breakfast is offered to every student each morning so no child starts the day hungry. On the first day of school, sixth-graders and ninth-graders are the only grades in their respective buildings. Student advocates have been placed in each of the middle schools this year to help students. And that’s not even every effort.

“We know that if a student is not fed, if they don’t have the right clothing, if they don’t have a place to do homework at night, a safe environment, they’re not going to focus during the class time,” Ute said. “Plus, if there’s … some family issues that are going on, it’s hard for anybody to concentrate and see hope that, you know, they can do it.”

The AOS program is just another way the district helps kids socially and emotionally. The goal of the program, which is a class students go to during the school day, is to help a student overcome their barriers with personal growth, education and achievement

Those barriers could be anything from abuse and neglect to a lack of support and financial struggles, White said.

Each middle school has about 30 students in the program and there are about 100 students involved at the high school. Students are selected for the program after they have failed two or more classes, been absent 36 days or more, been suspended five or more days, involved in violence or experienced other risk factors.

White said some might categorize the students in the program as “at risk,” but they look at things a different way.

“We say we’re underdogs, but we want to be champions,” he said.

Last year, White and Black taught the students how to play chess and related the game to real life. In chess, a player has to weigh the consequences of every move they make before they make it. That’s what they are trying to teach the students

White learned the game when he was in third grade as a way to manage his anger.

“Now at 30 years old, I can say that learning chess in the third grade impacted me big time because it allowed me to think about choices and moves that I made,” he said.

And it’s helping the students. Treven had a simple answer when asked what he liked best about the program: “It just gives me a chance.”

Starting early

But the process of making sure a child graduates on time starts years before a student steps into Newark High School as a freshman.

Ute said instead of looking at it as a ninth-grade to 12th-grade issue, the district looks at it as a birth to 12th-grade issue. The district offers programs where parents can receive books for their toddlers and Newark staffers model reading to children. Families also can get connected with social agencies through the schools if they need help.

“We’re trying to make that early connection with families even before they enter our district,” Ute said.

This summer, the district launched a new effort to help its youngest students. The district piloted a kindergarten readiness program at Ben Franklin Elementary School. About 17 incoming kindergartners participated in the program, which focused on science, technology, engineering and math, said Ben Franklin Principal Dena Cable-Miller.

Cable-Miller said it was successful because there’s a notable difference between the kindergartners that participated in the program and those who did not.

Most of the students who participate did not attend preschool. They had to learn how to hold a pencil properly, and how to walk in a line down the hallway. The children knew an average of three numbers when teachers had them identify numbers zero through 10, but by the end five week program most students could identify at least nine numbers, Cable-Miller said.

But besides the numerous academic strides the students made, their self confidence also grew, Cable-Miller said.

“Some students were really good at self monitoring, knowing when to raise their hand and ask for help,” she said. “Some students knew that during the hand writing portion they needed the support of the teacher so they automatically sat in the front row during that activity.”

Cable-Miller said having early academic success is an important component to them graduating.

“I think when students feel successful from the very beginning, they’re interested, they’re intrigued and they want to know more,” she said. “Creating that passion for learning at such a young age will hopefully then keep it going into the upper grades.”

mdevito@gannett.com

740-328-8513

Twitter: @MariaDeVito13

Newark City Schools’ four year graduation rate 

  • 2001: 74.5 percent
  • 2002: 71.0 percent
  • 2003: 71.2 percent
  • 2004: 78.1 percent
  • 2005: 74.8 percent
  • 2006: 75.1 percent
  • 2007: 71.6 percent
  • 2008: 68.8 percent
  • 2009: 73.4 percent
  • 2010: 68.2 percent
  • 2011: 70.2 percent
  • 2012: 73.1 percent
  • 2013: 76.0 percent
  • 2014: 81.2 percent
  • 2015: 81.7 percent
  • 2016: 81.3 percent Found in The Newark Advocate September 18, 2016

 

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