With a stunning one-third of high school students failing at least one class, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) has been casting about for solutions.
That’s where Gear Up grant facilitator Kristi Ford comes in.
“Too many kids say, ‘I’m not college material,’” said Ford at the March 25 PUSD board meeting.
Through her Gear Up grant, Ford works to help students get on track to an undergraduate degree.
The grant mandate has led her down a winding path to find help for her students.
She runs a mandatory homework hour, response to intervention programs, and intersessions between semesters.
This spring, she hosted an intersession aimed at bringing up grades, but she found it mostly helped students fill the gaps in their education that had caused them to fail classes.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock asked Ford to present her findings on the catch-up program to the board, since the high school has a serious issue with students struggling in classes.
As of the first week of March, 35 percent of high school students were failing one or more classes.
Ford sent out 120 letters to families with students failing one or more classes.
“Seventy-one students came in voluntarily to recover their grades,” said Ford. “That speaks volumes.”
She said four teachers also came in during their spring break to work with the students — without pay.
“Not only are kids investing in their education, but teachers as well,” said Ford.
Oddly enough, most of the students failing classes have also passed their AIMS tests, reported Ford.
“There is no correlation between grades and test scores,” said Ford.
So, she set out to determine why the students failed their classes.
“Is the student not trying? Do they not have enough time? Do they have personal issues? There are lots of different issues why they fall behind in grades,” said Ford.
She told the story of one student who works late every night because his paycheck pays the family’s rent. He’s doubly exhausted because he has to get up early in the morning to get his younger brother ready for school while his mother’s at work.
He has no time or energy to do homework and falls behind in classes.
This student used the extra sessions during spring break to make up for his crazy schedule and fill the gaps in his education.
Such hardworking students can definitely do college-level work, they just need a bit more help to get there, Ford said.
Ford’s focus on filling in the gaps and increasing GPAs has studies to prove it is a winning strategy.
Studies from U.C. Santa Barbara, the University of South Florida and Columbia University show that GPA is a greater predictor of college success than test scores, ethnicity or language.
“The only way I’m going to help kids succeed is interventions,” said Ford.
Board member Shirley Dye asked when Ford’s grant ended.
She said next year.
“What does the grant pay?” asked Rory Huff, board member.
“The grant brings in $179,000 to the district,” said Ford.
The board shifted uncomfortably at the amount of money they knew they could not replace.
Ford had a suggestion.
“There are ways to build in interventions,” she said.
“Intersessions and summer school. These need to be a priority.”