Candy Helps Students Boost Grades

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Turns out Snickers bars are useful for more than their luscious caramel.

Payson High School Principal Roy Sandoval uses them to reward kids who are failing classes but manage to improve their grades.

At a recent Payson Unified School District board meeting, Sandoval’s revelation to a board that considered banning sweets on campus all together caused a short silence.

“I know it’s candy, but it’s fun,” he told them. “It’s fun and I like Snickers.”

And the program was nearly 100 percent successful, with 17 out of 18 kids boosting their grades and passing their failing class last fall.

“It’s not a tutoring thing,” Sandoval said. These particular students lounged on the cusp of passing, and many just needed to complete missing assignments. Sometimes, the mere act of Sandoval asking moved the students to action.

“It’s just that little boost,” he said.

In coming school board meetings, principals from PUSD’s schools will discuss their moves toward meeting recently agreed to board goals, which include focusing on graduation rates and the percentage of students exceeding on the state’s standardized test, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards. Goals also include spotlighting employee morale, parent satisfaction and smoothing the transition from middle school to high school.

A joint committee between the high school and middle school is forming to address what educators say is a difficult transition, evidenced by test scores that often dip.

Sandoval says his school’s key focus is individual intervention.

In the past, attendance hearings for students with too many absences have proved successful. Modeled in the same vein, the school is piloting academic hearings for freshmen failing at least three classes this year.

Attendance hearings, which Sandoval says require more intricacy than it appears, met an 83 percent success rate during last year’s first semester. Students with more than the 10 absences allowed face their parents and a committee of teachers and administrators. Teachers can drop students from classes for too many absences.

Those present discuss the hearing packet, which includes attendance reports, grades and a discipline report. Everyone works to write a contract that will allow the student to stay in the class.

“We do everything we possibly can to keep them in that class and give them credit,” Sandoval said.

For the academic hearings, the contract will focus on remedies so the students can pass the classes. Students who fail classes must retake them. “That actually floods your system,” Sandoval said, adding that the demand on manpower could potentially overwhelm the school.

Student successes are also increasing. Twenty additional students have enrolled in advanced science classes from this year to last, up to 155, and an extra 58 students have chosen advanced math classes, up to 210.

The number of prospective Arizona Academic Scholars, a graduation accolade awarding rigor, has risen to 43 from last year’s 25. The number of scholars traditionally fluctuates widely from year to year for unknown reasons. Sandoval said he would like to see 50 students on the scholars path.

Of the school’s 800 students, over half participate in various clubs and sports.

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